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Thursday, March 15, 2007


I had a light schedule yesterday, and was in the process of catching up on book work in the back room, when an early 90’s Ford Ranger drove up into the shop. An intense looking guy in his middle forties exited the driver’s side door, giving me a thin lipped smile as I approached. I’m feeling better with only the dregs of the bone-ache flu left, and I’m looking forward to doing some business.

“Good morning, can I help you?” I asked brightly.

“Yea, AutoZone just diagnosed my truck, and I wanted to talk it over with you.”


“Wouldn’t it be better to talk this over with the guy at AutoZone who diagnosed it?” I asked reasonably.

“They already scanned it, and told me I need an oxygen sensor,” he continued without acknowledging my input. “I need to know how much it would cost for you to put the one in I bought from them, and what your guarantee is.”

“If I did put their oxygen sensor in at your request, there would be no guarantee. It’s not my part and not my diagnosis.”

“I told you they already told me what’s wrong,” He replied, the familiar sound of customer frustration building in his voice.

“Actually, they pulled codes. There’s a big difference between a diagnosis and pulling codes. A code stored in the computer can point you toward an area where the computer sees something out of specifications, but…”

“I don’t need a lecture,” he interrupted, with a wave of the hand. “If the truck sets an oxygen sensor code, it’s just common sense the oxygen sensor needs replaced.”

“Sometimes, and sometimes the oxygen sensor is working great; but in compensating for some other problem, it sets a false oxygen sensor code,” I reply, wondering why the hell I’m continuing this conversation, knowing the guy thinks I’m a crook already. “It doesn’t matter, because I don’t install AutoZone parts. I think you need to find another repair place that will put in customer supplied parts.”

He looks at me for a moment, realizing finally I’d just told him to take a hike. He started to get back in the Ranger, and then stood away from the truck.

“Okay, how much for you to diagnose it?” He asked, surprising the hell out of me.

“Seventy-five dollars, and it’s not part of the fix,” I answered.

“Fine,” he sighed. “Write it up.”

Later, after the customer left with estimate in hand, I drove the poor little Ranger over to the side and began what I call exploratory surgery. About forty minutes later, I knew exactly what was wrong with the Ford Ranger, and it wasn’t the oxygen sensor. The oxygen sensor was varying on my scanner just like it was supposed to do. There were no misses, or vacuum leaks. The code set in memory revealed the computer saw an overly lean condition from the oxygen sensor at sixty-five miles per hour. I immediately tested electric fuel pump pressure, and found it to be a few lbs below specifications. With over 150,000 miles on the truck, I’m not surprised it’s a little tired. I know the feeling. It’s never the time, it’s the miles. I call the customer with an estimate for an electric fuel pump, but I asked him a couple questions first.

“Have you experienced a lack of power on the freeway or on hills, and possibly some extended cranking on cold mornings?” I asked hopefully, holding back my gem diagnosis until I had confirmation of some problem other than a check engine light.

He was silent for a moment, and then said, “yea, I have to go up Skyline occasionally, and the truck’s been really dogging it. Now that you mention it, the truck’s been turning over a few extra times lately in the morning. I thought it was due to the oxygen sensor.”

I give him the estimate for an electric fuel pump and my reasoning. He ain’t happy with the price; but the fact it’s the original pump, and I’m going to replace it with a Ford dealer part gets his reluctant okay.

He called me today, after doing looping upswings up Skyline Blvd when he left the shop last night. All the power’s back, he claims, and he said he’ll let me know if the light stays out. He was heading over to get a refund on his AutoZone oxygen sensor. So, I’m happy if he’s happy, and… the phone rings.

I answer with my usual helpful sounding spiel. I get cut off in the middle by an outraged man.

“Where do you get off bad mouthing AutoZone?!”

Oh boy… :)


Matthew Nowlin said...

AutoZone used to buy used engines from me all the time. They've found someone cheaper. :/ You can sell 200,000 mile engines reaaaal cheap.

BernardL said...

AutoZone no longer scans vehicles around here because of being wrong most of the time. I'm shocked they ever sold used engines. That must work out real well for them. :)

Matthew Nowlin said...

They STILL sell used engines. In fact, I know several of the people that handle their used parts division out of corporate headquarters in Memphis. It's profitable for them. They work, essentially, with the URG (United Recyclers Group) which has decent quality control. I would have no problem buy bolt ons, body parts, etc., from them. Just not engines or trannies.

BernardL said...

I'm glad I don't have a job in their complaint department. :)