You take your car to the shop complaining of a terrible noise or vibration or smell or possibly all three, and the technician who checks it can't hear, feel or smell the problem.
Here's where you say, "It's just like going to the dentist, the toothache goes away on the way to the clinic." It happens almost daily in the car repair business. We find it as frustrating as you find it, and we are not trying to diminish the importance of the problem when we tell you we can't find it if the symptoms are not there. For an intermittent problem there are a few options you can follow, and some you might not want to follow.
1. Wait until the symptoms return and stay constant. Diagnosis will be easier. The downside? It might not be convenient for you to take it in at that time. You might be out of town, or you might even be broken-down. This is the "denial" approach. Just hoping it goes away, but if it is really intermittent (only happens every other Tuesday or less), it may be the only way to go.
2. Leave it at the shop where they can keep trying it until the symptoms present themselves, at which time a diagnosis can be done. The downside: It will take an unknown number of days for this to happen, and it might not happen at all. You're without a car while you wait, but at least you're not broken down. This is the "they've had my car for three days and it is still not fixed" approach. Not the favorite method for the shop either.
3. Make a guess, or better yet, let the technician make an educated guess and replace something and then wait to see if the symptoms come back. The downside? It might be money wasted if the guess is wrong, but at least you're trying. Eventually you will get the problem as you eliminate the possibilities. Please be merciful toward the technician who misses his guess. It is, after all, a guess.
This is the "throw money at it" approach, but you're being proactive. It may be the most expensive, but quickest.
If you are the only one who has experienced the symptoms, the technician has to go on your description of those symptoms to try for a diagnosis. The clearer you can be, the better the results. Try to be as specific as possible about when it happens, (sitting still, moving fast or slow, turning, braking, accelerating, hitting bumps, etc.) Each specific condition narrows the focus and eliminates some possibilities. Try to be as specific as you can about whether it is a noise, (squeak, squeal, knock, thump, grinding or clicking) or a feeling (vibration, heat or cold) or a smell (hot rubber, oil, exhaust fumes, gas fumes) or sight (steam, smoke or liquid puddles).
You might notice that out of the five senses available, we have left out taste. We don't recommend tasting anything on the car to help in the diagnosis. And, as for the so-called sixth sense, we have no luck at all using ESP or feminine intuition or any other of the sixth senses to reach a diagnosis. Faith healing doesn't work on cars either. You can believe that.
Larry DeHays, the owner of DeHays Automotive, Inc. of Fort Myers Beach, an ASE certified Technician for 35 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law program under the Florida Attorney General, would like to hear your questions about auto care. He can be reached at his shop at 17617 Broadway Ave. near Beach Bowl on San Carlos Boulevard or by phone at 466-3373. Go to www.dehaysautomotive.com for more information.