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Serviceman's Log

As a change this month, a colleague of mine is going to talk about the confusion electronic systems in cars can cause. After all, when it comes to cars, everyone's an expert (or has a mate who thinks he is). I'll let him tell the story in his own words.

This month, the regular Serviceman has deputised me to fill in for him. He is taking a well-earned break, away from the soldering flux fumes, the blinding oscilloscope screens and his multimeter readouts.

Click for larger image

Having had a good grounding in domestic electronics and 2-way communications, I have now owned and managed an automotive repair workshop for over 30 years. We specialise in electronics in cars in general and EFI in particular and my earlier training gives me a head-start over other mechanics when it comes to diagnosing problems in these areas. As a result, I tend to get all the “too hard” jobs that other workshops have attempted but have been unable to resolve, often after many hours of work.

One of the most annoying things about clients in the auto repair game is trying to diagnose faults based on the information given by the said client. If you go to your local GP for any health issue, you don’t tell him which procedure you would like performed on your body. You certainly wouldn’t consider telling the doctor that you wanted your appendix removed, just because you had pain in that area, or having your knee cartilage scraped because your mate told you it needed to be done.

However, when it comes to cars, most owners become instant experts and that certainly applies when it comes to the electronic systems and components. Many clients bring their car in and ask us to clean the injectors or to “tune” the engine, without telling us what the actual problem is. Another common request is to have the ABS (anti-lock braking system) diagnosed and overhauled. I have also lost count of those who simply want the car’s ECU diagnostic codes read and/or printed out, without mentioning why they need this information.

Life for the automotive technician (a 21st century car mechanic) would be much easier if customers would simply come in and tell us, in plain English, what the real problem is, instead of muttering about ECU codes and other mumbo-jumbo that they don’t really understand. Why not just say “the car is running roughly”, or “it’s using too much fuel” or “the engine stalls in traffic”, or “the car shakes when the brakes are applied”. The technician could then check that section of the car concerned, diagnose the problem and quote on a repair based on his skill and experience, rather than on the “gut feel” of the owner or the “expertise” of his mate.

Blaming the injectors

Perhaps because their operation is relatively easy to understand, the poor old EFI fuel injectors cop the blame for all sorts of problems – everything from excessive fuel consumption, to engine misfiring when hot, to intermittent no-start situations. The simple facts are, they cannot affect any of these.

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