Third Time’s the Charm

There’s one situation every professional
automotive mechanic/technician has had to
deal with from time to time, and that’s the
all-knowing-can-do-it himself kind of
customer. Yep, the home grown garage
guys who just so happen to own a couple of
ratchets, a repair manual and broken down
car. They’re the type who got lucky
tinkering on their own car a few times,
and may have picked up a few tips after
spending their weekends watching a couple
of those automotive reality shows.
Now they’ve ventured into doing the neighbors’, relatives’, and friends’ cars. However, TV shows and manuals both have their limitations. They only tell you what to do, and only if you read their directions carefully. For some people, a quick glance at a page or a few seconds on the TV screen is not enough. They need to be reminded again and again before it sinks in.

Some of these connoisseurs of the all-knowing repair manual don’t really read enough. They’ll skip over certain information, or just skim through sections without comprehending any of it. Many just assume they already know how a certain system works based on a previous system they’ve had some luck on. It’s as if they are stuck in a time zone of out dated automotive technology, but after they’ve turned a few screws, glanced at a few more pages, and turned a few more screws they find their problem isn’t solved. Then and only then do these experts head to a real repair shop.  Of course, their repair manual is always laying on the passenger seat with the important pages carefully marked for the shop mechanic to examine. As if to say, “Here’s what you need to know”, when in fact it’s the other way around.

By the time they have made it to a repair shop they’ve already rehearsed their explanation of the problem over and over again, and know just what they’re going to say to the service writer/mechanic. Sometimes it’s a pretty farfetched story and sometimes it’s right on, ya just never know. Now that manual of course, it can’t say much, but it does show the wear and tear it’s been through. All the corners are dog eared and riddled with greasy finger marks from the constant thumbing through. Sometimes the pages are even highlighted or notes have been added. (I’m still waiting for somebody to leave nothing more than a note with some website address on it instead of a paper back manual.) With a battle weary repair manual on the passenger seat and at least one more comment from the owner, the car eventually gets pushed into the service bay.  

The last job I had at the shop that fits this description was no different than any of the previous ones. The car in question wouldn’t start, and this neighborhood mechanic did his best to read and understand what was on the diagnostic pages of the manual, but he still didn’t have an answer. He just couldn’t make any sense out of the wiring diagram for the fuel pump circuit. His final verdict, “It’s not getting any voltage to the fuel pump.”

This was one of those cars where the fuel pump doesn’t turn on until after the first spin of the crankshaft. In a lot of systems, especially older ones, turning the key on would at least let the fuel pump relay run for a few seconds, but not on this car. I checked the signal according to the manufacturer specifications, and sure enough the voltage (and ground signal) was at the fuel pump. All it needed was a new pump.

Now, the other half of dealing with the weekend pro mechanic comes to a head, and that’s the diagnostic results I have to explain at the service counter. You can bet he won’t believe any of it. As usual, there’s a bit of distrust and an attitude accompanied with their response, “I checked the fuel pump fuse and there wasn’t any power there. So how can you say the fuel pump is bad? All I wanted you to do was find out why there was no power at the fuse, not tell me it had a bad pump! I can check that myself!” I personally find it rather insulting to go to any professional in any type of business and rudely say something like that. Surely you could think of another way to tell me that you’re not sure of the diagnostics results. The short version of what it sounded like to me was, “You’re wrong... and I know it!” 

I always figured, you get what you give. So, while still trying to be the professional, and at this point somewhat of a teacher too, I answered his remarks with my own sarcastic response, “This vehicle doesn’t turn on the fuel pump relay until it knows you’re going to start it.  Meaning, until the engine spins and sends a cam/crank impulse to the PCM the fuel pump relay isn’t energized. The fuel pump fuse is after the relay and since the relay isn’t on there won’t be any voltage at the fuel pump fuse. But, I’m sure you knew all of that, because you had the page marked for me in your repair manual. In fact, you had it highlighted, too.” The expression on his face was classic. That stunned look of confusion and a loss of words to back up his previous statements was enough to make me want to go in the other room, close the door, and wait for the giggle snorts to fade away.

He ended up dragging the car back to his little hole in the wall, and I’m sure, cursing the repair shop for showing him up. No doubt when all his buddies get together it’ll be another round of “slam the repair shop mechanic” again. (They travel in packs ya know.) Me, I’ll just put my tools away and wait for him to return. I know he’ll be back in about a year or so. How do I know this is going to happen? Because this very same guy did the very same thing with the very same car last year. Oh yes, and with the very same problem. Not only was it exactly the same problem, the same guy, and the same problem, but the same attitude and explanation at the counter. Of course, just like last time, he’ll run down to the same cheap-o parts store and buy the same bargain basement fuel pump that might last another year or so. 

  Even after explaining how the system worked a year ago, he still doesn’t get it. I might be able to do all the show and tell regarding this diagnosis, but I don’t think I can do too much if he doesn’t remember it next year. It might be a good idea for him to spend a little more time reading his manual. But, if need be, I can go over the whole thing again and again. Well, that’s twice so far, maybe the third time’s the charm.

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