A recent breakdown of a friend’s vehicle made me really start thinking about America’s troubleshooting capabilities. It is a well-known fact that America is losing its leadership as innovators; however, our ability as troubleshooters is in jeopardy as well. Like innovation, this is due in part to foreign competition. As with the rest of the world, this is also due in part to the increase in technology in today’s products.
It’s no secret that as products gain intelligence, the ability for the average Joe to troubleshoot them gets more difficult. What was once solved with a voltage gauge, ammeter, continuity tester, and timing light is now left to software and logic that’s buried so deep, one can’t see beyond the many layers of technology between your view from the outside and the actual problem. Case in point is the breakdown I referred to at the opening of this blog.
The vehicle that broke down would turn over nicely and not fire. The mechanic inquired as to whether any abrupt bumps or contact with an object occurred. I knew what he was thinking. Perhaps the vehicle had killed the fuel pump due to a jarring motion. This is a safety feature that is built in so your fuel pump doesn’t keep pumping fuel in case you are in an accident and a fire occurs. Typically an accelerometer senses impact due to a rapid deceleration in the same manner deceleration triggers an air bag. You could hear the fuel pump working to a point where it primed when the key was turned to a run position. Therefore, I didn’t think the fuel safety shut off had been triggered.
Sure enough, the initial diagnosis came back as, “The ignition control module indicated a problem. It had to be replaced to see if the coil was bad.”
Really? So you just start with a basic code indication of the ignition control module, replace that, and then start looking down the line for further issues? Why not look at the components down the line instead of charging $150 for the module and $150 of labor to install it? Couldn’t about $300 in potentially useless troubleshooting be saved if the coil was tested for receiving a pulse and sparking accordingly? Even a quick continuity check might be a better solution. This is basic troubleshooting that has become a lost American skill.
You can see the problem here if you look. Today’s technicians are limited to the results on the diagnostic tool. They have lost the ability to think beyond that. The same goes for the parts people at most auto parts dealers. If the computer can’t find it, the part doesn’t exist? Really? That’s why I go beyond these keyboard cowboys to the grizzled old parts person who knows how to bird dog through the catalogs to get the part I need.
Another example of the dumbing down of troubleshooting recently occurred when I asked Walmart to check my fluids. Figuring it would take about twenty minutes I walked over to an adjacent fast food restaurant (if you can call it that) and ate. Upon returning, my vehicle was still on the rack because the mechanic didn’t have a square socket to loosen the plug on the transmission. I inquired as to whether he had an open end wrench or a crescent wrench. He replied with embarrassment that he had never encountered a square plug in this day in age of fasteners at or above hexagonal shapes. Now this guy looked like a cross between Goober and Gomer pile. In other words, he wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. However, I blame his education more than his lack of intelligence. We are skipping the most basic troubleshooting skills and going right to the advanced technology and code reading evaluations in our automotive schools in addition to the mechanic shops.
Maybe I’ll open my own school with vintage machinery in order to once again instill the basics of mechanics in today’s youth. Then again maybe I’ll just require mechanics to learn the way I did. If you can’t fix it or rebuild it, you don’t drive. This meant a lot more when I was forty miles on in the desert four wheeling. I learned quickly that if I didn’t build it right in the driveway or perform the proper maintenance while all of my tools were close at hand, I didn’t stand a chance at fixing in in the field. Last I knew, cacti didn’t produce ignition parts and computer programs only provide a hint at what the problem might be. The real diagnosis is in the ability to troubleshoot.