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Friday, August 1, 2014

Help Your Mechanic Help You

First, happy August, its mid-summer up north here, mid winter for the southerners, I smell a change in the air for us all... Hows that for prophetic eh?

K, back on topic...

 If, and this is a big IF, you pay attention, are aware of changes in your reality, and you check over your vehicle and fluids on a regular basis, you are the best diagnostic tool your mechanic has in his or her toolbox.  You, as the owner/ operator are the first defense against vehicle breakdowns, the first one to recognize a problem or change and the best person to describe the problems as they arise. 

You know your vehicle, your mechanic works on it.  You know whats normal, your mechanic knows how it 'should' be.  You know how things change over time, what is different today from yesterday or last month, while your mechanic can say 'thats worn out and needs replacing'.  

When a problem arises or something seemingly changes, paying close attention and gathering information like a good investigator using all your senses to help your mechanic define and determine the problem can save you time, money, and machine downtime.

Being the best diagnostician you can be is crucial to preventing shistey mechanics from scamming you, having your vehicle hijacked by a mechanic who doesn't know diagnostics very well, or having the wrong parts changed.

When you can explain that the grinding, scraping noise appears to be coming from the rear, maybe right side, and only happens after letting off the brakes, the mechanic will know much more than when you only tell them that there is a noise in the car.  

A good mechanic, on a quick test drive with an experienced ear can track down simple issues, but you, as the driver, can help give crucial info that can speed up that problem finding.  

If you are driving along and feel a new vibration, what just changed?  What did you do just before it changed, what kind of road conditions changed, did you hit a big bump, a piece of road shrapnel, a pothole, puddle , patch of gravel or small animal?  

Is it a vibration, or a grinding sound?

Is the feeling of it coming from the seat under your butt, or from the steering wheel? 

Is it worse turning right or left? 

 Does it only happen when you accelerate? 

All the info you can offer to your mechanic, related or not, may prove to be the important missing piece to determining cause and getting it fixed quickly.

The other day, a client called me kind of scared for her vehicle and family.  When she called me, she could only say that the car was bucking and shaking at about 15mph, not accelerating beyond that.  I said I would check it out first thing in the morning, and not to drive it anymore tonite now that she was home.  I immediately suspected fuel pump, fuel filter, wet ignition, or ECM sensor failure.

Upon complete diagnostic inspection to check everything and a test drive- all of which took a bit over an hour- I concluded that it was all in the automatic transmission.  How you ask?  

The truck fired right up, and OBD2 codes came up irrelevant.  During the test drive I noticed I could change the behavior of the vehicle with the shifter.  Starting out in D it would clunk, then buck, shudder and not accelerate well at all.  If I shifted it into L and followed engine RPM shifting like with a standard transmission, it would clunk only once and accelerate normally.  Still not a happy transmission, but noticeably better treating it more like a manual.  After asking a few questions, I concluded it is time for a transmission fluid & filter change and flush: hope that fixes it.  It may not tho... it may be a shredded transmission, may be too late already for the price of over 10 years of no fluid changes.

Taking the time to determine what changes the behavior, what does nothing and is unrelated, and what might seem unrelated are all aspects of putting on your investigator hat and listening, feeling, observing  and noting what changes, what causes what, what seems to be causal or corollary versus what seems coincidental.  Even mentioning that the fluid has not been changed since you have owned the vehicle is valuable info to share with your mechanic.  Collect all the info you can to give your mechanic the best chance to properly diagnose the problem quickly and effectively.

When something changes, or some new noise or malfunction comes into being, ask yourself these questions:  

   1- Does it change when I...? (turn the steering wheel, press the brakes, run over bumps in the road, turn on the lights or blower, etc...)
   2- When did it start? (after driving thru a puddle, taking a hard left turn to avoid a collision, adding questionable fuel from a backwoods fuel station, or cleaning the engine, etc...)

   3- What are the noticed symptoms?  (it grinds when I..., it shakes when..., the car won't stay straight and pulls right hard when I hit the brakes, etc...)

When you roll into your mechanic, a good description of a problem might be:
 'Hey Bob g'mornin.  Thanks for the emergency checkup, Heres a breakfast burrito from that little cafe up the street.  Hey, so I drove through a fairly deep puddle at 30 mph yesterday and now every time I hit the brakes the car immediately pulls really hard to the left.  There is a harsh grinding sound from what sounds like the left front wheel and the steering wheel shudders when I take a left turn and hit the brakes at the same time... Oh, and it gets really bad over 40 too.  I know you just did the brakes and they have been fine until the puddle incident.  I don't feel any other clunking or vibration, and the car feels stable and steers fine without the brakes engaged'

You could also simply say 'It makes a grinding noise' and pay the mechanic to figure it out while you wait and pay and pay and wait.

The burrito scenario ( Yes, your mechanic will be grateful for a hearty snack- I like coffee and chocolatey stuff myself ) with the additional information yields much quicker results for diagnosis and repair. 

This scenario gives the mechanic several places to start with diagnostics and with a quick test drive can probably determine the problem.  That added description required nothing but simple observation skills on your part, no technical knowledge at all.  This procedure of observation is simply noticing when things change, what they changed to and any other connections that seem valid.  

To Tom & Ray Magliozzi; AKA Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers; who always kept it lively, taught me oodles about customer service and always got people to make the silliest sounds trying to describe the problems... 

Thanks guys, ya goofy buggers ya, lotsa laughs!!. 

And yes, we mechanics do get some harmless but entertaining chuckles at the expense of the lay persons using such funny noises to describe the problem their machines are experiencing.  We love it, it makes our day to hear it, thanks to you as well.  


Til the next round... MW out n zoomin...



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