Diagnosing vehicles can be a challenge. Some vehicles in particular are extremely challenging. However, over the years we've noticed that certain circumstances almost always result in an unhappy customer and there is usually not much we can do about it - try as we might. When I look back at customers who have become upset with us, I've noticed that they all fall under a few simple patterns.
1) Poorly maintained vehicles
Poorly maintained vehicles present a few challenges to auto repair shops. First, they often have multiple issues that can show up as one symptom. This means that even if we find one of the issues, it won't fix the problem until we find the second or sometimes third issue. From a customer's perspective this can be infuriating because it looks like we didn't find the problem the first time. In reality there are numerous problems. Sometimes we can't diagnose one problem without fixing something else in the system. The best hedge against this is to maintain your vehicle. It makes diagnosis faster and less expensive when you do have a problem.
2) Non-professional repair history
Often times we see vehicles that have been diagnosed and repaired by non-professionals. We find duct taped parts, zip ties, glued brake lines, bad electrical work, and parts installed backwards. Really, it's amazing what we see sometimes. Inevitably, this type of repair history gives a repair shop no base line to rely on. Instead of being able to count on expected measurements and well-performing components, we not have nothing to rely on. Literally anything/everything could be wrong and diagnostics become time-consuming and expensive. This rarely makes customers happy because it usually ends up being more expensive than the estimate. It also means that we might have to replace a part just to get a baseline measurement to make the diagnostic.
3) Modified vehicles
Vehicles with performance chips, and engine modifications or upgrades can also be challenging to diagnose efficiently. Performance chips change the values we expect to see when diagnosing a car. That can mask what is happening and provides us with no way to determine if what the data we are seeing is from a failure or from the chip.
Modifications such as aftermarket intake/filter systems, turbos, etc... change the expected values in the vehicle as well. It can make the car run rich or lean, it can give ruin spark plugs, it can cause catalytic converter issues and O2 sensor issues. The problem once again is that the normal way to diagnose these problems becomes tainted because the modification is changing the expected data that the computer is reading. Instead of comparing readings and noting the differences we now have a more difficult task of figuring out what we should even be expecting.
After writing this blog post, it has become apparent to me that each time we've had an extremely challenging vehicle or a bewildered customer, it comes down to the presence of 2 of the 3 items above.
We aren't magicians. Our work is somewhat dependent on what we have to work with. I can promise you this however, we will be honest and straightforward with you throughout the whole process and you will always be able to authorize any charges before we move forward.