Thursday, May 3, 2012
Code PO401, 2005 Chevy Malibu 3.5L Engine
I was working away on a Ford Explorer maintenance check when someone drove in the shop and gave me a blast with the horn on my birthday, Monday. Oh boy, my favorite summons – nothing I like better than being beeped to the front. I slid out from under the Explorer only to get a second blast. Bounding off a creeper at 62 is not the same as 22… or even 52, so I ended up getting a third call of duty before I could get on my feet. Of course this endeared the potential customer to me. I was all business when I reached the driver’s 2005 Chevy Malibu window like I was back at the Exxon station in Baton Rouge, LA pumping gas in 1973.
I swallowed the ‘we know your horn works, want to check your lights’ greeting, and stuck to the old standard ‘may I help you’ although at the moment I didn’t know how helpful I cared to be. A forty something woman in jeans and a red blouse smiled up at me, tipping her sunglasses forward while trying to shove a parts box in my hand. She will be known as Red Malibu for the blog today. I accepted the box which contained an Exhaust Gas Recirculation valve (EGR Valve).
“My husband had our Chevy checked at AutoZone. They hooked up their scanner to it and got a PO401 code. They said this is what causes it.” She pointed at the valve I had in my hand. “He wants to know how much you’d charge to put it on.”
Wow, I got blasted to the front so I can be an AutoZone parts changer. I don’t think so, Red. See, I happen to know something about these PO401 codes for insufficient EGR flow through hard diagnostic experience. They’re never the valve, at least on this year model.
“It’s not the valve that causes the PO401 code, Ma’am, it’s-”
“AutoZone says it’s the valve and my husband agrees,” Red cuts me off. That’s okay. I’m just glad she didn’t do it with the horn. “I just need a price for replacing the valve.”
“Excuse me for a second.” I handed her part back and walked over to the office where I retrieved one of my business cards. I’d just done two of these a couple months ago so I knew what the ballpark price was for the real fix. I wrote it on the back of the card and gave it to her. “When you get someone to replace the valve and you still have the code, call me. That price on the back is for taking off the intake manifold and cleaning the EGR passages which harden up with carbon on these Chevy 3.5L engines.”
Red gasps, not so much at the price, but because I was sending her down the road. “You’re refusing to put the valve on? They read the code!”
“I don’t put on any parts but the ones from my suppliers which I warranty, but that’s not the reason. I’m sure your husband will not like my fix for your car, but it’s the only one that will work. The code is right. There is insufficient EGR flow, but it’s not the valve. The cause is the plugged passages that feed the valve.”
Red threw my card at me. “Thanks a lot!”
I picked up my card as she backed the Chevy out. I didn’t expect to see her again so I was mildly pleased at being able to politely kick her horn blasting butt out of the shop without actually doing it myself. Red did all the work. Wrongo, Bennie. Tuesday morning I get a call from Ms. Malibu. She paid the money to get the valve replaced and the code cleared. It came right back on before she got home.
“My husband thinks it’s a faulty new valve. What do you think?”
Yes, I considered all the sarcastic responses the Dark Lord whisks up into my evil brain at every set up like this. I did not give in to temptation. “Do you still have the old valve?”
“You already know the price for what I need to do in order to repair your car. I’d like to put the original valve back on when I do the job rather than an aftermarket replacement. That is if you want it fixed here.”
Red Malibu hesitated for a moment. “I do have the old valve. Can I bring it in now?”
“No, but I can get you in tomorrow morning. Leave it off with me at 8AM.”
“Put me on the schedule. I’ll call you back if my husband says no.”
Your wish is my command. Shut up, devil. “I’ll put you down for eight. See you then.”
Red brought it in yesterday morning. I removed the intake manifold, took pictures of the carbon plugged passages in the intake and block, cleaned them all up and reassembled. I cleared the code and called her to pick it up after a test drive. She arrived but had a demand that I only allow for special exceptions. Red wasn’t one of them.
“My husband would like you to release the car so I can drive it around until we’re sure the code doesn’t come back on before we pay you.”
“I’m afraid not. I do guarantee my work. If you have any problem relating to the PO401 code I will take care of it under warranty. I’m not releasing your car until I’m paid. You’ve seen the pictures and I’ve already test driven it with my scanner hooked up longer than you did when you had the valve replaced. It’s fixed. I would have called you for a ride along if I’d known you wanted to test it yourself.
Red’s aghast. “You don’t trust me?”
“As much as you appear to trust me.” Yeah, I’m only human. Not everything is easy-peasy in Automotive Repair customer relations.
“Fine!” Red gives me her credit card and driver’s license.
I run the card, give her the receipt, copy of the invoice, and finally her keys. “Your replacement EGR valve is on the passenger side floor mat. Maybe you can get your money back for the valve.”
“Yeah, if what you did fixed it,” Red gives me a quick parting shot before leaving.
She called me this morning. Red and her husband traveled to Sacramento and came back Wednesday evening and the check engine light stayed off. And no, I did not tack on an hour’s labor for the horn blasts… although I was tempted. :)