Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2005   by Auto Service World

Countertalk: Knowledge Building: Real-World Diagnostics

The following comes to Jobber News courtesy of Matt and Donna Dimitrov, of Matt’s Automotive in Port Colborne, Ont. It is offered here as a reminder of the real-life, everyday challenges that can face service providers, and the value of training in proper diagnostic procedures. It is also a reminder that a good counterperson, who engages the customer in a comprehensive conversation, may be able to save the beleaguered technician wasted time and effort . . .

“It’s still doing the same thing.”

We have all heard this one from our customers–and it is especially enjoyable when other people are in the waiting area.

A frustrated lady wheeled her 1997 Pontiac Grand Am into our parking lot.

She complained that her vehicle, with 198,000 km, had an intermittent “ticking” and power loss problem and the car was barely driveable while this occurred.

“I had repairs done at two other garages and spent all that money and it’s still doing exactly the same thing,” she said.

“I went to shop #1 while the car was doing the ‘ticking’ and they listened to it,” she said. “They replaced the converter and told me that this would fix my power loss problem. As soon as I drove away the ticking and power loss returned. I drove right back and told them ‘It’s still doing the same thing’.

“They were listening to the engine and looking at the same time at a small box hooked up to the car under the dash. The owner of shop #1 sent me to a good friend, who owned shop #2.

“Shop #2 checked my car over and told me that there were vacuum and oil leaks around the intake which needed to be fixed. I let them do it,” she said.

Confident her car was healed, she drove away, but to her dismay, it was “still doing the same thing.”

She was really upset and went straight back to shop #1. A tech that works there recommended she go to our shop, as he had previously been employed at the shop across from ours.

At the conclusion of her confusing story, she proudly announced, “I can show you right now what the car is doing.”

After going up and down the road for a few kilometres, she returned and said, “It’s not doing it now!” At this point she said that she would leave the vehicle for us to check and requested an estimate when we knew what was wrong. We explained that there would be a charge for basic diagnostics and, looking me directly in the eye, she asked, “What is diagnostics?” I compared vehicle diagnostics to a human having a cardiogram done: basically hooking up a machine to your body and reading the printout to diagnose the problem.

She understood and left. After plugging in my scanner, I took the car for a short drive and recorded a “snapshot” (see No Problem graphic), which showed nothing unusual.

That evening I drove the car home with no problems. In the morning, on the way to work I noticed a slight ticking. “A lifter?” I thought.

I hit the record button on the scanner and glanced at the screen.


I knew right at that moment what the problem was (see Problem graphic).

The “noise” channel showed a high reading and the ignition timing was retarded 19 degrees.

It turns out that the noise of the lifter was being picked up by the knock sensor, and the ECU was retarding the timing.

The repair: A new set of lifters.

Matt and Donna Dimitrov,

Matt’s Automotive, Port Colborne, Ont.


Thanks so much to Matt and Donna for sharing their experience.

One of the points not mentioned in this review, but clear from other information given, is that there is every likelihood that the vehicle owner was less than vigilant about vehicle maintenance. The greatest evidence of this is the excessive engine oil sludge that was present. Donna even made sure that she noted on the invoice the need to change oil regularly.

The presence of the sludge should have been a clue to the other shops to look a bit deeper, not to mention the fact that they would have kept the customer over the long haul if they had done so.

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