First Thought

Where To Turn

Larry Jewett - June 14, 2012 10:00 AM


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Some Problems Can Be Perplexing.

Cars were easier to work on when there weren’t so many of them.

As they have evolved, the amount of learning has evolved with them. On a parallel level, so has the learning of blue oaths that will sometimes get a car to fire (but only by chance).

As a community, those who want to fix their own cars often find themselves turning to any number of sources for solutions or knowledge or compassion. As a case in point, I offer my friend Sam. It’s not his real name, but the circumstances will be truthful (see, Sam, I told you no one would laugh at you).

Sam has a domestic car from the ’90s, the brand of which will remain unmentioned because I don’t want to start one of those GM versus Ford versus Mopar versus foreign discussions here. You can do that on the Internet forums to your heart’s desire, but it’s not what we are trying to accomplish here.

Anyway, Sam was facing one of the most frustrating scenarios that you hopefully haven’t had to face. It was an intermittent problem, one that had no definite obvious set of circumstances that would allow the culprit to be easily revealed. Occasionally, the car wouldn’t start. Now, the starter wasn’t grinding, so the four-year-old battery got the evil eye. Out it goes, but the problem, still intermittent, remains. The good thing is that the battery probably would have needed replacing soon.

His next step was to take the car to a shop, since he didn’t have an overabundance of time to work on it himself and couldn’t afford to have it out of service for more than a few days. The shop said they figured it would be the starter solenoid. Something inside was causing it to work only part of the time. In other words, you bought a ticket in the starter lottery and hoped your numbers came up. The starter was replaced and life was good … for two days. The problem returned. The shop was clueless as to what it could be. Then, one day, it quit altogether. A new certified mechanic with all kinds of accolades and customer recommendations, the kind of guy who fixes the cars of other mechanics, ran some diagnostics and determined it was the starter, the one that was replaced a short time before. It was traced to this point after the ignition switch beneath the dash was replaced, another case of a good part swapped out for no good reason.

By now, the bill was up to about $400 (or at least that was all Sam would admit to spending) and that was before the new starter came into the mix. The starter was swapped out (finding that the previous shop stripped the bolts, adding time to the job) and the car ran fine … for two days.

After hearing this story, I suggested he contact Andy since he’s the tech guy and knows this stuff. Andy, using a previous experience with a Corvette project, asked about the relay, which had never been touched. The relay was changed and the car ran fine … for four days. Soon, the problem was only occurring when the car sat for more than 12 hours. Then, it didn’t happen that way. It became one of those intermittent problems that happened without rhyme or reason.

Sam hasn’t set fire to the car as of this writing. There was a replacement of the lock cylinder in the steering column, only to find out there’s factory anti-theft so the car is coded not to start. (It did set the code nearly a week later that stated “Theft Detected”. Sam said he could only be so lucky.)

There are love stories surrounding our cars. It’s not always love-hate or just hate. Modifications can serve to challenge expertise, as many of the enthusiasts rely on professional shops to get tougher projects handled like superchargers or turbochargers. Many of us don’t have the right tools and have to rely on friends who do. There’s a good chance if they have the tool, they know how to use it. It’s even better when you have a car club because you are going to find someone likely went through the same thing you’re going through and may even have answer. We suggested that to Sam, but I’m not sure he’s listening to us anymore.

Yes, our cars can be frustrating, but the hassle is well worth it when balanced with the benefit. Sam is going to find it was something that was overlooked (provided he doesn’t try to sell the car while it is running) and we’ll all feel like fools. Electrical problems have been called “gremlins” for good reason. They can bedevil you to the very end, but it goes with the territory, a territory we happily choose to inhabit.   ´┐╝Many of those who show cars today didn’t have inflatable playgrounds at the car shows of their youth, but places like YearOne know the hobby is for all ages.