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Intermittent faults

July 2, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

"I'm sitting in the middle of the street! It broke down and quit on me. I'm sitting here in the middle of the d@#n street! What did you guys do to my car?"

Mr. Smith was driving home after picking his car up after a routine tune-up.

"Mr. Smith, can you call your towing service, or can I call one to come and get you?'

"You should send someone out here to get me going!"

"Mr. Smith, we don't have a mobile service, or a towing service, but once we get the car towed in here, we'll get it figured out and take care of it."

The next call we received from Mr. Smith was from his home. The car had restarted and he drove home. We urged him to bring the car back so that we could check it out. He elected to have it towed to us. When it arrived it started up easily, and continued to start and run perfectly every time we tried it for 20 miles of road-testing over the next week. There were no codes in the computer, and no problems existed as we tested it. We gave it back to him. I'm sure he's still angry with us.

Mr. Jones's Cadillac would occasionally refuse to start. It always started for us. Once while testing, the starter motor failed. It was replaced, although we knew it was not the original "no-start" problem. It was replaced because it failed. The car refused to start for Mr. Jones a few days later. Further testing showed a weak and intermittent cam sensor. That could certainly stop the car from starting, so it was replaced and the car started repeatedly for us. Again, one day the car refused to start.

On a hunch, the technician suggested Mr. Jones try his other ignition key, on the chance the chip in his usual key was faulty. Mr. Jones tried that, and it worked. He wanted his money back for the starter and the crank sensor. "I didn't need those things, all I needed was a new key."

Welcome to the WORLD OF INTERMITTENT CAR PROBLEMS, the biggest pain-in-the-butt for us, (and for our customers), in the whole industry.

Hardly a day goes by that a car doesn't come in with a complaint of a problem that has been "driving me crazy, but it isn't doing it right now." They can't duplicate it, but they want it fixed, because it's a pain-in-their-butts. There are three options, all of them pains for the business as well as for the customers.

- Option #1: A highly trained and experienced technician can spend a lot of time, using expensive equipment, trying to duplicate the concern. If nothing turns up while he's testing, who pays him for the time and effort he just spent? Not the customer, because the tech didn't fix anything, or even make a diagnosis. The business pays him. Pain-in-the-butt number one for the business.

- Option #2: Customers sometimes insist that technicians must do something, because the problem worries them. With no diagnosis, the only thing left is guessing. It's known as an "educated" guess, but it's still a guess. Based on experience, the tech will pick the fault that he thinks is most likely to cause the symptoms. No matter how many times it is explained that the results cannot be guaranteed, if the problem reoccurs the customer wants his money back. Butt-pain number two for the business.

- A third option is for the business to refuse to attempt the job until the problem gets worse or becomes permanent. That also makes customers unhappy, because it may fail in a bad neighborhood. Butt-pain number three. This option, however, is invoked to avoid numbers one and two, as the lesser of three evils.

Nobody likes intermittent problems, least of all, technicians. We get sore butts.



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