``Practice doesn't make perfect-(only) perfect practice makes perfect,'' football legend Vince Lombardi said. Dealers who want to succeed at automotive service must embrace this credo by getting accurate vehicle histories and communicating clearly and frequently with technicians. Countless diagnoses veer off course because service personnel don't get precise histories. Worse yet, they don't always speak plainly and honestly to each other.
A recent case on which I was consulted exemplifies how quickly and easily a routine diagnosis can go wrong. It also reinforces the need for firm, clear-headed leadership in the service department.
This sad saga began when a customer-whom the service manager supposedly knew well-called for help. He was convinced his car's clutch had failed because he couldn't get the car out of the driveway. The service manager sent a tow truck to retrieve the car and told the technician who performs the shop's drivetrain work that a clutch job was imminent.
(Imperfect practice No. 1: The service manager is the technical expert, not the customer. Regardless of how well they think they know a customer, service personnel cannot and must not draw conclusions until they query the customer and inspect the vehicle.)
After the tow truck delivered the car, the drivetrain technician tried to move it, but it wouldn't even start! So the staff pushed it into the undercar service bay where the drivetrain tech tried to get it running. After several hours of experimentation and parts-swapping, he admitted defeat.
(Imperfect practice No. 2: The tech and service manager don't communicate with each other, let alone with the car owner. Consequently, the job languishes in the hands of a tech with the wrong expertise for the job.)
Realizing that the no-start condition must be corrected before addressing the alleged clutch problem, the service manager finally assigned the car to a drivability technician. By now, workers were feeling the stress of a job gone bad. The drivability man asked the drivetrain tech if he ``covered the basics'' during his no-start diagnosis. To avoid additional embarrassment over a car he couldn't restart, the drivetrain tech responded, ``Yes!''
(Imperfect practice No. 3: Another communication breakdown occurs as the harried drivability tech takes the word of a co-worker he knows has the least diagnostic experience of anyone on staff. Then, instead of quietly reassuring the drivability tech to perform an extra-thorough no-start diagnosis, the service manager leans on him to get the car started pronto!)
Sensing the urgency of the situation, the drivability tech began several steps beyond Step 1: Verify spark, fuel and compression. The ignition sparked, but the spark plugs were wet with fuel. He skipped the compression step because the engine's cranking sound and rhythm suggested it was okay. He thought his time was spent better elsewhere-such as determining why fresh spark plugs his co-worker installed were already doused with fuel.
The drivability tech pursued the potential causes of over fueling and soon reached a diagnostic impasse. Then he telephoned a colleague of mine who happens to have extensive experience on that make and model of vehicle. My friend was very busy but always tries to help neighbors in the trade he knows reciprocate with information he needs. The conversation raced from basic diagnosis to rarer, lower-percentage possibilities.
My friend telephoned me for suggestions, thinking he might be missing something obvious. Stymied also, I urged him to forget the make/model and leave nothing to chance by rechecking the fundamentals-including a cranking vacuum and compression check.
Soon my friend called back. Because the engine flunked the cranking vacuum check, he went to the frequent-failure component-the catalytic converter. Loosening the converter flange let the engine restart. When they removed the converter and shined a light into it, they saw its insides had overheated (classic symptom of an over-fueled engine) and collapsed, restricting exhaust flow.
Total time invested was only about 35 minutes.
We later learned the customer noticed the engine running progressively weaker-a common symptom of a failing catalytic converter. The worse it ran, the more he feathered clutch engagement to keep the car moving. Refusing to believe engine trouble was at hand, he blamed the clutch and, unfortunately, the service manager assumed the man knew the symptoms of a slipping clutch.
My friend says these guys mean well. But bad habits and leadership caught up with them, turning a simple job into a two-day fiasco.