A Volkswagen Beetle was left in the parking lot one cold morning. It was one of my regular customer’s 2001 Beetle. All I knew about the problem was that it wouldn’t start.
“Let’s check a few things first,” I thought. I pulled out one of the glow plugs to check it for wear and tear and determine if it was getting the necessary voltage to warm it up. All was well; in fact they looked fairly new. I had a meter handy, so I checked to see if the resistance was correct. I cracked open a fuel line to one of the injectors and there was no fuel. The tank was full, but there was no fuel pressure at the lines. One of the things to worry about with a diesel is air in the fuel lines. Any time these engines get any air in the fuel lines they will be hard to start or won’t start at all.
Before I started tearing into other possibilities, I decided this was a good time to shoot a little starting fluid down its throat to see if I could get a burp or two out of the little engine. I wanted to be sure there were no “mechanical” issues with the engine.
A couple of quick shots of ether and a crank of the key and it started right up. As I looked under the fuel distributor, I could see that the fuel was actually coming out of the two halves of the distributor, but, apparently, the gasket or housing to the distributor had developed a major leak. Air was getting into the fuel lines, but once the engine spun fast enough to overcome the air rushing in from the bad distributor, it then was able to start.
I called my customer and gave him the bad news. The biggest problem was the cost; a fuel distributor isn’t a cheap part, by any means. Luckily for the owner, his vehicle was still covered under the 100,000-mile factory warranty, but barely. It was about 500 miles shy of going over the mileage.
The obvious next step would be to have the car towed to the dealership. All the work could be completed under the warranty and save the customer from a huge repair bill. There’s nothing like a warranty when it actually pays off on an expensive part. I was actually more relieved myself, since it’s not an easy job.
At this point, I was through; I did my part, diagnosed the problem and sent it on to the proper repair facility to have the work done. Then the phone rang. It was the owner of the car.
He was quite calm on the phone, but I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. “The tech at the dealer says it needs new glow plugs, a new glow plug relay and a new glow plug harness,” he said.
Once the initial shock wore off, I began to laugh. “You’re kidding me,” I commented, laughing the whole time.
“No, that’s what the guy said,” he replied, with a little smirk in his voice.
I think he knew what was going on, but didn’t want to say anything to me (but I knew quite well what was going on).
He then asked, “Do you want to call them?”
“No, let’s see if they want to call me. I already know what’s wrong with the car. Ask them if they will guarantee the repair and make it right if that doesn’t fix the problem,” I advised him.
“Okay,” said my now laughing owner. “This ought to be a fun adventure. I’ll play along with you.”
The phone rings again and it’s the tech from the dealership. I felt like it was one of those old western movies. You know the ones where the bad guy strolls into the bar and says to the other cowboy, “This here town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” There’s no doubt that this young, “wet behind the ears” dealer tech had something to prove.
He proceeded to tell me that he had a code for an intermittent glow plug signal and had records showing that the glow plugs were changed at the dealership two years ago. He indicated that he didn’t need another shop to tell him that because he was perfectly capable of handling the repair. And, the only reason he was making this call was because it was “company policy” to verify complaints if the customer didn’t agree with the diagnosis.
“How did you arrive at that conclusion?” I asked.
“I had a code for it, and these cars have a history of problems with the glow plugs,” he very proudly stated.
“Did you check the glow plugs themselves?” I very calmly asked.
“Well, they were changed two years ago,” he answered.
“Let me get this straight, you found a code, you didn’t check it, but now you want to change the part…is that it?” I asked in a stern manner.
“I don’t need to check it, I already know,” he quickly bantered back.
“I hate to tell you this, but that code is there because of me. I pulled the glow plug out and hand-checked it. I even checked the resistance value on the glow plug and the incoming voltage. I didn’t see a thing wrong with the glow plug circuit. Did you, by chance, notice the raw fuel under the fuel distributor?” I asked in an even sterner voice.
“Yes, I saw the fuel. I washed it off,” he answered in a confident manner. “It started to stink up the shop. The car was directly under the shop heater and the other techs were complaining.”
“That fuel you saw is from the fuel distributor housing,” I told him.
“Oh, you know, these customers are all alike; they’re just trying to get stuff done for nothing while it’s still under warranty. So, it’s no big deal,” he answered.
Oh, please, don’t tell me this kid had the nerve to say that. It reminds me of all those comments that small children say to strangers in a crowded room. Comments that are usually out of context and never under the right circumstances.
“I think you should put this car back outside and check it in the morning after it gets good and cold. It’s going to leak again that I’m sure of,” I told the new wrench.
“I’m going to have to ask my service writer about that, because I’m very sure of the repair work that I’ve already diagnosed. So, like I said, this is just a courtesy call, not a call to tell me how to fix it,” he said.
“OK, have it your way. I’m just trying to help you out. I didn’t spill a drop of fuel. That fuel you see came from the distributor and not from anything else,” I said, trying to get my point across.
“I understand, but you know, here at the dealership we have the most sophisticated equipment and can diagnose these problems better and quicker than you can,” he answered.
The mistakes just kept adding up. About then, I was shining my wrenches for a showdown. Somebody is going to get it, and it isn’t me.
I think if I were him, I would be concerned that the glow plugs that were installed two years ago have failed again, as it seems pretty odd to me that the glow plugs wore out that quickly. But, this young wrench head is strictly going by the code and not diagnosing the problem.
I asked him, “Wouldn’t it be proper procedure to clear the code and then recheck? Chances are it was a false code due to the fact that I had disconnected it earlier.”
He didn’t seem to be interested in my comments. As I expected, the dealership called the owner and told him that they were going to do “further” testing.
The next day, the owner called me back with even more astonishing news. “The dealer tech said that the raw fuel was from the glow plug that you took out,” the owner said laughingly. I figured the tech was trying to cover his tracks.
A week later, the little Volkswagen had a new fuel distributor and a happy owner. The job was all under warranty, and it didn’t need those new glow plugs replaced…imagine that!?
This dealership tech was just a young wrench with a chip on his shoulder, and trying to out-wrench an old hand like myself was not a smart move. To top it off, the owner wasn’t dumb about the whole thing either. A few more years under this young tech’s toolbox and he might just make it.
I guess you could say that there was a showdown at high noon. Holster those wrenches boy, you’ve got some more miles to put under the hood before you’ll be ready for another showdown.
I think it was a good lesson for the young tech. Just because you’re dealing with an independent shop tech, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how to use those wrenches.