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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2004 Misfiring Chrysler Town & Country

Look, happy-go-lucky folks fog up the people viewing software in my head. I admit it. I couldn’t walk around with a smile on my face all the time even if I had a Guardian Angel at my shoulder, and a Leprechaun feeding me money from the pot at the end of the rainbow. It doesn’t work for me… period. I see and meet people all the time with dazzling smiles for no apparent reason. Sometimes it’s a result from too many reality TV shows, and sometimes it’s just that they’re outwardly happy people who want to show off their inner glow. I have no problem with any of them, which brings me to the more humorous type, who wear the smile, but can go from zero to troll in a split second. I have some experience with those, and their antics often times make me smile. Yesterday’s encounter with a woman I will call Tina Tempest graces my blog today.
Tina drove in yesterday morning behind the wheel of a misfiring 2004 Chrysler Town and Country. It was all black and looked very sharp. I walked out of the office where I had been putting stamps on my tax envelopes on their way to appease my government gatekeepers. Tina popped out from the driver’s seat. Fashionably attired in dark blue dress, black high heels, and tan leather coat, thirty-something Tina wore a brilliant smile. Another trick I’ve never mastered is smiling while talking. Tina could do it, and I call it a trick or skill because gee whiz, that must take practice.
“Hi, can you help me understand something?” Tina asks without any drop in the radiance or spread of her smile. Even the tenor of her voice evokes thoughts of smiles.
I’m game. “Sure, what can I do for you?”
She ducks back into her car and comes out with a few invoices. “Could you look at these and tell me what you think?”
I took the invoices with confidence. I knew they weren’t mine, so at least this interrogation wouldn’t have anything to do with me… at least directly. Tina had been to three shops, one in Sacramento, and two more in our North Bay Area. They had done extensive work replacing a myriad of tune-up parts and sensors to cure codes indicating random misfires, sensor problems, and power loss. I look up at her attentive happy face without a clue other than the obvious.
“Well, it looks like you’ve had a lot of performance work done. How-”
The change from Jekyll to Hyde was so sudden I nearly lost the grip on her papers.
“Tell me something I don’t know!” Gone was the smile, the sweet voice, and any semblance of patient interest.
I may have stuttered momentarily because Tina (Pit Viper) struck before I could speak.
“Look… do you even know what you’re looking at?!!”
My mind filled in what Tina left out of her question – probably idiot, asshole, or moron. I glanced down at my bright, clean nametag wishing it still had the smudge making it into Bennie instead of Bernie. “I was about to say that you’ve spent a lot of money on repairs.” I quickly held up my hand because the fangs emerged ready to strike before I could go on. “Let me finish. I heard a distinct misfire when you drove in, so I imagine the repairs done didn’t fix your problem.”
The Viper look receded into a snarl. “Wow, you guys in the repair business are real honest to God rocket scientists. Anything else, Einstein?”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She smirked because I kept an eye on her to make sure she didn’t take a swing at me while I controlled my short outbreak of amusement. “Okay… let’s start over. Hi, I’m the owner/tech here. I see you have a misfire problem. Would you like to have a diagnostic done to find out what’s wrong? I can’t tell anything from the invoices you’ve handed me other than you’ve had a lot of work done.”
“Yeah, but can you fix it?” The set of her mouth promised instant retribution if she didn’t get the right answer.
“Of course.” I hope. “If I have any trouble figuring it out I’ll call you and tell you so. Otherwise, I’ll call with an estimate of what I think should be fixed to solve the problem. May I ask why you didn’t take it back to one of the shops where you originally had work done? I’m sure-”
“Because they’re parts changing at my expense until they luck into what’s wrong! That’s why!” The Viper was back and she wasn’t havin’ any.
She may have a point. We’re not infallible out here in auto repair land. Some intermittent problems on these buggies with space shuttle technology don’t always reveal their secret maladies to even us concerned professionals.
“Okay then… I’ll write up an invoice, and I’ll call you when I have some word.”
I quickly wrote up her diagnostic estimate, had her sign it, and gave her a copy. As she grimly accepted it from my hand, I decided I liked the Viper better than the engaging Smiler. She was all business. I can do that. She got a ride home and I went to work on the Town & Country. It had one of my favorite Chrysler engines, the 3.3L six cylinder. After scanning it with my more in depth notebook computer software, I found it had set a myriad of codes including random misfire, cam position sensor, and three dealing with throttle problems. Since studying her old invoices I saw the other shops had changed most everything having to do with those codes.
I’m not hard-headed enough to ignore what’s already been done other than confirming it, which I did. It was time to get into my computer manuals and see if any of these malfunctioning items had a common ground or power source. After looking at the wiring diagrams for fifteen minutes I didn’t find a common power or ground, but I did find they all shared a 5 volt computer reference signal with the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) solenoid. I confess I got a little excited about this and ran out to test my theory. I started the ill running mechanical beast, hearing the rolling misfire and seeing the engine shudder. I located the solenoid, pulled the harness connector off, and all hint of roughness went away. See, if the 5 volt reference signal gets screwed up by a shorted sensor in series, it will cause all other sensors sharing that reference signal to throw fits, and the offending sensor doesn’t always set a code. I found out how much the solenoid was and called Tina to give her the good news.
“So, you’re sure you’ve found the problem?” The Viper was on line and suddenly as I heard the Viper voice, I wasn’t so sure.
“When I get it fixed I’ll let you test drive it before you pay me. How’s that.” I never do this except in cases of extreme duress. It was a perfect fit.
“Fine. Go ahead.”
With new EGR solenoid in place, Tina took the Town & Country out for a spin. She was gone nearly forty-five minutes, which meant she was either being very thorough, or she’d be coming back on a tow truck. Yes… I may have prayed a little. In came the T & C, and out came the smiling Tina Tempest to pay her bill.
Thank you, Lord.  :)


RJ Parker said...

You lucked in there brother. I remember when I was a boy, my father had a 1968 Town & Country but it had a 440 v8 4 barrel. Man could that car move...and drink gas...He use to tow a trailer with it and you'd can actually see the needle moving.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I remember those 383's and 440's very well, RJ. Changing spark plugs and ignition wires on those beasts was a real treat. They gave off so much heat under the hood, they would cook a set of wires in no time. I can only imagine the heat when your Dad pulled a trailer with the T & C. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

I always thought "town and country" was one of the most awkward names for a vehicle ever.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

It doesn't exactly pop into the mind easily, Charles. Come to think of it I've never seen a Chrysler T & C commercial. :)