Check Engine Charlie

  Charlie comes in every now and then.  I guess you could say he’s a regular but I think I would call him more of an opportunist when it comes to his car repairs.  He’ll go to an oil change place for oil changes, a tire shop for tires, a transmission shop for transmission, so on and so on.  If there is an opportunity to get his car into a shop he’ll make an appointment and get it in. But, the one thing he seems to always use me for is the check engine light.

  Normally, most people don’t pay that much attention to the check engine light unless it’s staying on.  Not Charlie, he’s absolutely paranoid it will come on and stay on. 

  Somehow, some way somebody has told him that the check engine light is not a warning of a  problem with the exhaust emissions or related engine/transmission problems but the precursor to a ticking bomb that will bring an end to his ride of rides.  It’s as if the check engine light is the trigger to the doom and gloom of his car.  At times, Charlie thinks the check engine light has stayed on a longer than it should when he starts it up in the morning.   This prompts an immediate phone call and a trip to the repair shop.  With all these trips he’s seen me use several different code readers, scanners, O-scopes, and laptops that I have at my disposal to check codes and related engine systems.  There’s times I think he just wants to see what new gadget I’ve got that I can hook up to his car.   The more bells and whistles I throw out there the more he seems to show up with another reason for me to recheck his car. He can probably name a bunch of the scanners that I’ve used… seriously… he’s been to the shop that many times.

    Sometimes I wish he would take up antique car collecting.   Go buy something old enough that it doesn’t have a check engine light in it and see if he gets the idea that the entire universe doesn’t revolve around a service light.  It’s not like he doesn’t remember cars without check engine lights he just doesn’t seem to understand that a car can operate without one anymore.  Why he’s even told me about an old car he drove while he was in college that leaked oil so bad that he had to keep a can or two with him at all times.  Talk about something that sounds like it was on the verge of doom and gloom… also sounds like the typical college kids car.   So you would think he would have some understanding of the inner workings of the automobile, but apparently once the service light came into the everyday vocabulary his understanding has wasted away just like the oil in that old car from college. 
  I’ve tried to explain to him about the meaning of the service light and about the various reasons for it to come on but it just doesn’t seem to sink in. I’m hoping the day never comes that his old car actually does turn on the check engine light… because if it did… he’d probably worry himself all the way to a coronary and he would have to have the car towed in while I’d have to make a call to 911 and have him towed to the emergency room.  Of course I hope that never happens, but with him I could see something along those lines.
I generally let him watch the scanners do their work or have him watch a graph while I check things under the hood.  The other day he was concerned about his O2 sensors and wanted to know if they were working correctly because he thought he saw the check engine light pop on and then go right back off.  There were no codes stored and I asked him if it happened when he first started it or after driving several miles.  It was while he was driving for a bit and not when it first started. 
“What difference does that make?” he asked.
I then explained to him about how the heater circuit operated to warm up the sensor and what the sensor actually did in relation to the fuel mixture.  This only made him even more curious to what they did.
“Watch this Charlie.  I’ll graph the O2 sensors here on this scope and I’ll show you the front sensor and its corresponding rear sensor.  You’ll see the voltage changes on the screen as well as the differences between the front and rear sensors at the same time on the screen,” I told him.
“Fascinating, simply fascinating,” he said, “But I don’t see how that translates to fuel?”
The more I explained the more he seemed to be lost.  He still seemed to be more concerned about what was going to happen with that check engine light. 
  I kept up with the explanation until I got to the point where he was just staring off into space and lost interest in me, the check engine light and the little graph moving up and down on the screen.
  I don’t know if he ever understood a thing I said, or for that matter has reconsidered the importance of the check engine light.  All I know is that at some point in time somebody is going to tell him something stupid regarding the check engine light and he’ll make another trip to the shop and watch the fascinating little lines bounce around on my scope screen.
  No matter what I say, no matter what I do, old “Check Engine Charlie” will still listen to some B.S. from somebody out there and then head over to my shop for another diagnostics that will amount to nothing.  Maybe I need to come up with my own B.S. to counteract what everyone else keeps telling him. 
I guess it comes down to the old saying: 
If ya can’t dazzle them with brilliance… buffalo them with a little bull.