A few weeks ago, I invited an old friend and former co-worker to lunch. I have to admit, my motives were not entirely focused on “catching up,” as he now works for a local company I have been eyeing as a potential customer for quite some time. Of course, I casually worked his company’s fleet into the conversation, and not surprisingly, he had plenty to say on the subject.
One of his crew trucks, a 1997 C-3500HD, had been experiencing severe brake trouble. He explained that the vehicle would intermittently fail to stop with brakes applied, which is bad enough in the average car, a major disaster waiting to happen in a loaded dump truck. I asked him to elaborate on the symptoms. He said the crew would pull up to stop and the pedal would go to the floor and come back up, providing almost no braking whatsoever.
Of course I immediately suspected an ABS malfunction. He then told me it had been down to another shop (who’s main focus was tires) for repairs, and was not fixed. I told him I would be happy to look at it for him, and he said he would run it by the owner.
The truck showed up along with the in-house equipment mechanic for the company. I asked him about the repair history. He told me the other shop had replaced front calipers, pads and turned rotors and thought the problem was the power steering pump, as this truck has Hydroboost brakes.
He gave the green light on replacement, so they replaced it with no improvement. The in-house mechanic then asked them to put a genuine GM replacement pump on instead, which they did with the same result. They then speculated that it might need a new Hydroboost, which the in-house mechanic installed himself.
The Test Drive
I agreed to test drive and inspect the vehicle. I read the EBCM codes with the Tech2, there were six, and took the vehicle around the block at about 30 mph, and applied brakes.
Unfortunately, it had not occurred to me to check the operation of the emergency brake, a fact I immediately regretted after stepping on the brake pedal. The ABS system activated, cutting me off from the brakes.
Fortunately, I was able to stop the vehicle safely, but I will not again forget to check the emergency brake on a vehicle with a brake system complaint.
As for the six codes I had read in the EBCM, this is a three sensor system. Both RF and LF wheel speed sensors as well as (Transmission Output Speed Sensor) erratic signal and loss of signal codes were present. There were no powertrain codes related to the OSS, or any problems with the operation of the transmission or speedometer, at least none obvious, which led me to believe that the problem was within the EBCM, not with the sensors.
Of course I didn’t rule out possible wiring faults or defective sensors, but I decided not to go any further and involve myself in liability for this vehicle without customer approval to repair, by whatever means necessary, the problem. I called the customer and explained my position, and we agreed that an estimate would be written and approved before any further diagnostics were performed.
I also made very clear to him it was unsafe to drive and should be red tagged until repairs were made and absolutely confirmed, although the truck remained in my shop for the time being. I gave them an estimate based on Mitchell repair time, plus two hours diagnostic time.
I expected that two hours would be plenty of time between myself, Jr, and the 49,000 other members of iATN. And if we were unable to solve this problem within that time, I would be willing to eat whatever time I go over and only charge the two hours. A new fleet customer would certainly be worth that.
The estimate included parts and labor for replacing both front wheel speed sensors, transmission OSS, EBCM, and diagnostic time. It came to about $1,800.
I made sure to explain in the estimate that some or all of the estimate may not be necessary, and that it did not include repairs or replacement to wiring harnesses, if necessary. The customer reviewed the estimate, and told me they decided to park the truck due to the cost of further repairs, but might repair this spring.
The Slow Burn
A week later, I have had time to reflect on the seriousness of this situation and the possibility of a fatal crash taking place with this loaded vehicle after it had been to first repair shop, and had parts replaced, for a brake failure issue.
I am never one to bad mouth another repair facility. I love and have worked in this industry for 20 plus years and know full well what we encounter on a daily basis, including customers who don’t understand how these systems work, customers who think we charge too much, I could go on and on.
However, I reserve the right to be angry with this regional tire dealer and anyone else who operates using the braille and shotgun repair method. I will say that I think they do a great job of selling tires and have great tire-related customer service, but there is absolutely no excuse for this to ever take place within this industry. With all the electronic information and local aftermarket training available, to be without knowledge is without excuse!
Knowing how to remove and reinstall caliper pins and pinion nuts certainly does not qualify a person to repair a modern brake system. I hadn’t really thought about any of this until after the vehicle was picked up. Fortunately, my friend and Vetronix rep, Pat O’Reilly was at the shop, and listened to the closing conversation.
After the customer left, Pat brought up an interesting point. The local regional tire dealer had ripped me off, he explained. How? I asked. Well, he said, they burned up this company’s budget and left a sour taste for all of us, the entire automotive aftermarket, in their mouth because despite their inability to diagnose and repair the problem. They took a blind shot at it, and failed. They literally stole the opportunity for a qualified shop to repair this truck, and put their own company in a situation that could have led to a major liability, causing further bad publicity for the automotive aftermarket.
Now you might think I am being hard on the regional tire dealer, but I know their mode of operation, so let’s move on. I am not sure what my states particular regulations are for standards in vehicle repair, but I assure you I am going to find out.
I know what you are thinking at this point, this guy is trying to tell us we need more government regulation in the auto repair industry. In reality, I would like to avoid government interference. I think we are responsible enough to police ourselves, and we must, or sooner or later big brother will step in and do a poor job of regulating us, as we have seen happen to countless other industries.
It is my responsibility as a shop owner and representative of the aftermarket automotive industry to make sure I have the necessary tools, training and access to the necessary electronic information needed to repair modern vehicle systems. There are several issues I see on the horizon, and it is up to us to address them before government has to.
First of all, dealerships are trying to take our work away by campaigning to the public that we are not qualified to repair these modern vehicles, and these incidents of blind parts-changing seem to prove their point to many drivers.
Now I have nothing against dealerships, and have much respect for the abilities of dealer techs. Many of the helpful respondents to difficult iATN help requests are dealership personnel, and we should all be thankful for their help.
It should be noted that dealers tend to have the same problems with public image as the aftermarket, and I think it is great that some of them have come to realize it is better that we work together rather than playing on negative perceptions.
I have a great working relationship with a local Ford dealership that has been my main source for Ford as well as other manufacturer’s parts for years. They call us the quality dealership alternative for Ford vehicle repair, and of that I am proud.
My point here is, no matter if you are the new kid in the shop who is presently sweeping the floor and putting tools away, the owner, or anything in between, think about the state of this industry we love so much, this industry that challenges us and gives us our living wages, think about ways we can improve our image to the public and especially our customer relations and communication.
A great example of this perceived image comes to mind, in a recent election advertisement. There was campaign ad on the radio from an opposition to a particular ballot measure that would divide this state’s Supreme Court into districts.
In the radio commercial, a brain surgeon comes in to interview for a job with all the qualifications necessary, but does not get the job because he lives outside the boundary. The next applicant is interviewed, lives eight blocks away and is a mechanic, gets the job of brain surgeon.
I had taken offense to this ad. Not because of its potentially political incorrectness, but because we are highly skilled, trained and motivated professionals who care deeply about our industry. And to tell you the truth, I think many of us could actually perform brain surgery, after some research.
As shop owners, we must invest in the right tools and equipment that give our techs every advantage as well as opportunities to continue education whether it’s an outside source or in house.
If you are a facility like the one in my story, you are ripping those of us off who have the skills and resources and made the investments to make a successful repair, a safe vehicle and perhaps even a satisfied customer. You are also making my beloved industry look bad, and I suggest you stick to any thing but brakes. Skill up, tool up or just get out. I know there are those out there who think a bad repair shop makes the good one look good, but in reality it is a black mark on our entire industry and must be addressed. I expect this quality from you, and you should expect no less from me, after all, each one of us is an ambassador for this industry we love.