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Sabotage, Stupidity or Just Bad Luck?

posted at 10:28 am
on Sep. 18, 2006

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For about two years, my car’s check engine light has been on.  It’s been driving fine, but the check engine light has been trying to tell me that my timing computer has gone HAL 9000 and now isn’t answering its pings.

Despite the check engine light’s constant company, my car has been running perfectly fine until recently.  The clutch was slipping, and the car’s got about 80,000 miles on it, so it was time to replace it.

I took it to Aamco, a national transmission repair chain with several convenient locations in the Vancouver area.  There’s one over on Arbutus.  They said they’d replace the clutch and would they also like me to have them take a look at the check engine light.  I guess they meant the check engine light problem, because anyone can see the light. (Don’t look into the light!)

I said sure.  (Note to historians: This will be known as mistake ALPHA.)

Next day, the manager guy, Brent, calls. “Your engine’s misfiring.” Oh really? “Yeah, really.  The check engine light was trying to tell you that.  You need new spark plugs and wires.”

Now, this is odd for two reasons.  First of all, we test drove the car together the previous day, and he never mentioned the car misfiring.  Why? Because it wasn’t.  What it was doing, was the clutch was slipping, especially in third.

And to test that out, you have to accelerate hard and quickly.  That’s exactly the kind of driving that would reveal (and exacerbate, and be very difficult to do with) an engine misfiring.  So why didn’t he mention that the previous day?  Especially if he was going to try to drum up new business—he was the one that mentioned the check engine light.

(To Brent’s credit, he did try to help me postpone the necessary clutch repair by adjusting the clutch adjustment cable. But even that was a false economy because if you drive with a slipping clutch, you run the risk of damaging your transmission, which would be an even more expensive repair job.)

Back to the phone call and the second reason.  Brent says I need new spark plugs and wires.  I say, I don’t think I do.  He says, “Well, if you want to pass air care, you definitely need to replace them.  So you have to do it now or later, but it has to be done.”

And that’s even more odd, because I DID pass air care, three weeks ago on Aug. 31. (Yeah, it was the last possible day.)  I passed with flying colors, and the check engine light was on then—I know, because the air care folks made me sign a special waiver that they weren’t responsible for problems caused by them testing the car.  Again, if the car was misfiring on Aug. 31, I wouldn’t have passed air care, no way.

So I’ve been driving the car for about 5 days, and now the check engine light isn’t always on solid.  Sometimes it blinks.  Blinking is way worse that a solid light.  A solid light is like “Hey, you, hey, I gotta tell you something,” and a blinking light is “YO! OVER HERE!  I’M IN TROUBLE HERE! HEY YOU!  STOP DRIVING!”

Now, I know that the last time the check engine light was checked back in 2005, it was diagnosed as a timing computer error.  So either my car has decided there’s something else wrong with it in the past year (possible) or he’s misdiagnosed the light.  I honestly don’t know which is more likely.

But what I find WAY more suspicious is that the car had one problem when I took it in, but had two problems when I picked it up.  And the second problem is one that I had never noticed, nor had Susie, nor had any of my passengers for the past two years, nor did he notice it, even though it’s the kind of problem that you notice right away.

I can think of only three possible scenarios.

1) Either they’re guilty of messing with my car to create this problem deliberately.

2) Or they started to mess with something and were incompetent or careless and created this problem as part of the diagnosis process or even as part of an initial attempt to fix it before I told them not to bother.

3) Or they’re just really unlucky and my car decided to start malfunctioning some time between when I dropped it off on Monday, and when I picked it up on Wednesday, for some reason that’s completely unconnected to Aamco and Brent.

Sabotage, stupidity or bad luck.

And now I don’t want to take my car back to AAMCO even though they’re the ones who ought to fix it, because if, for instance, you find a band aid in your burger, do you ask for a new burger?  If someone is supposed to clean your house, and you suspect they stole your bracelet, do you make them come back and clean your house again, this time REALLY THOROUGHLY DAMNIT? No, you cut your losses and get the hell out.

So instead I took it over to the Volkswagen dealer this morning.  We’ll see what happens.  But I suspect that at the very least I’m going to need to get that new timing computer that I’ve been putting off.  Man, it’s turning into an expensive month.



 
 

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