When you bring your vehicle to your mechanic with a problem they will likely be empathetic to your situation; not sympathetic.
Empathy; the dictionary says is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Sympathy on the other hand is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. You see, most of us own vehicles. We know they break. We know they are expensive to fix. We still buy them and drive them. Kind of a fact of life.
Sometimes your mechanic might be able to get you some real sympathy in the process of diagnosing a problem with your vehicle. Sympathy that will possibly save you some money.
Diagnosing vehicle problems quickly and cost effectively requires a consistent diagnostic strategy. Your mechanic’s strategy and my strategy might be different but there should be one step that does not get left out in this information age.
First off we all would love to verify the problem. Yes, actually experience your issue first hand. It can be elusive though and sometimes we must work with the symptoms given and some gut instinct. Once the problem is identified our process may differ from one mechanic to another.
As the solution to a problem starts to unfold there is a time to do a search for recalls, TSBs (technical service bulletins), campaigns et al. Different manufacturers have different names for them.
Recalls are safety issues that apply to your vehicle. Who hasn’t had an airbag recall recently? The manufacturer of your vehicle can issue a safety recall on your vehicle on their own or when forced to by a government organization like the Department of Transport (DOT) in Canada or the NHTSA in the USA. When a recall applies generally the manufacturer will try to find the owners of the vehicles requiring safety repairs and they will perform these repairs at no expense. You can find out if your vehicle is under a recall by entering the VIN (17 digit Vehicle Identification Number) on your vehicle manufacturer’s website.
If we find that your vehicle’s problem is covered by a recall we can direct you to contact a dealer to have your vehicle repaired.
A TSB search is usually performed when the symptoms of a problem do not easily lead to a straight forward diagnosis. The manufacturer will list common failures that may typically be difficult to figure out given the normal diagnostic information they provided when the vehicle was built. The TSB may contain some variation on the diagnostic process to facilitate a quicker solution. Many newer vehicles have TSBs to replace all the ignition coils when the vehicle is exhibiting a check engine light due to misfire. What they are saying to the mechanic is “Don’t waste yours and the customer’s time figuring out why the vehicle is missing just replace all the ignition coils. They are the weakest link and the new ones are improved.”
Sometimes a problem is covered by a “campaign”. The “campaign” is a problem that the manufacturer of your vehicle feels you should be compensated for in some way provided your vehicle is within the campaign’s guidelines. Generally they are extending the warranty of some part on your vehicle because it fails too easily or too early. It is usually for a more expensive item that might seriously affect a person’s likeliness to ever buy their brand of vehicle again.
Finding that campaign that significantly saves our customer some serious money can be gratifying. All part of the diagnostic process.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org