Don’t miss the first step in problem-solving

"When it comes to fixing a problem with an automobile the first step is always to verify the problem."

Sometimes the obvious is not so obvious.  When it comes to fixing a problem with an automobile the first step is always to verify the problem.  One man’s “shake” is another man’s “rumble”.  The problem now is as clear as mud.

Many automotive problems are only communicated to the auto repair shop by phone, email, written message, or sticky note on the steering wheel.  The problem with these communication methods comes in the very first step of the diagnosis.

When the technician who is going to diagnose the problem gets in your vehicle an attempt must be made to verify the problem.

In an ideal situation the customer is present with the vehicle and the problem can be immediately replicated by the customer for the technician maybe even without a test drive.

In many cases the technician must interpret the email, written message, or worse the person (service advisor) who made the appointment’s interpretation of the issue.

Unfortunately most shop environments use the last method most frequently.

Admittedly many problems are straightforward.  “Headlight is out.”  Then there are the not so straightforward intermittent problems.   Sometimes the verification process is less than successful.  “Intermittently the vehicle shudders while accelerating.”

Problems that are the feeling type described by  words like shudder, shake, vibration, growl, and pulsation present a challenge to your technician.  A road test with the customer is mandatory.  The problem must also present itself during this road test.  When the road test ends with “it just isn’t doing it now” it will be very difficult for diagnosis.

Sometimes the technician has experience with a similar problem with the same type of vehicle.  The technician will attempt to solve a problem that is known to be common to that vehicle with similar symptoms.  Sometimes this works but not always.  The technician is taking a risk with this method especially if the repair is expensive, does not fix the problem, and therefore results in an unsatisfied customer.

Some vehicle have problems that their respective owners do not even recognize.

These problems can lead to more problems down the road but repairing them before they manifest themselves in a more serious problem will not necessarily produce a satisfied customer.

Ultimately the best result will be obtained when customer and technician agree on and experience the problem to be solved.  Sometimes getting this to happen will take time and as we know time is money.

When the problem cannot be verified many times it makes sense to follow through with the second step of any diagnosis.

That is an actual physical inspection.

The temptation in this computer age to simply diagnose with high technology instead of using your eyes, ears, and nose is always there.  It is easy to forget to just lift the hood (so to speak).  Many problems are solved this way.

The steps taken to diagnose and repair without verifying the problem are fraught with problems.  Missing that first step can make a solution a much more drawn out affair.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. He will write every other Thursday. E-mail: nutechauto@telus.net

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