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Thursday, September 20, 2012

PO171 Code on a 2007 Toyota Corolla

In writing news, I passed the 74,000 word mark on my last book in the Demon trilogy. I’ll be finishing it up by this weekend. It will take a while to get those characters’ voices out of my head. On to car encounter of the third kind, meaning the kind that are successful, but I wanted to open a vein rather than work on it. Yes, even I am susceptible to the political climate today. I’ve always rendered my shop as the Switzerland/Neutral corner of political discourse. It’s bad business to run off at the mouth when you are in the service business, and unless a customer starts embarking on a ‘Blame America’ rampage for some unknown reason (only happened twice in the past), I pretty much nod and smile when they chum the water by baiting me for my political stance. Most of my regulars know I’m a conservative. I’ve ended up voting for the lesser of two evils in most elections, and this one will be no different. My new customer decided to throw her line in the water and get a bite, while I attempted to get a contract to fix her car. Here’s how it went.
I was under a 1997 Chevy Camaro, doing routine maintenance, when a car drove in, set off my motion detector, and of course before I could launch my 62 year old frame up into action, I got beeped – strike one. I approach the driver’s side of a 2007 Toyota Corolla, which the driver is gunning up in RPM for some yet to be determined reason. I gesture for her to stop doing it as I close in. She’s either in her late teens or early twenties. Sometimes the younger generation starts to all look alike to an old fossil like me. She’s wearing hip hugger jeans, and a pink top, with her brown hair cut in some sort of page boy style. Acknowledging my gesture, she stops revving the engine and jumps out of the driver’s door with one of those drama queen like gestures. Then she holds out her hand with a smile.
“Hi, I’m Carrie Corolla (name of course changed by me to protect the innocent, also me). I can’t get this damn thing to idle down at times. Now… it’s acting okay. My uncle said to take it to you. He lives over on Nevil Street. I go to Cal State Berkeley, and I drive it every day. I’ve never had any problems with the car until now.”
“What’s your uncle’s name?” I ask this, because when people start name dropping ambiguous references, it kicks my distrust sense into overdrive. She tells me, and indeed, her uncle is a very good customer of mine. “Okay, good, when do you experience the problem?”
“Um… especially when it’s cold. It idles so high, I’m afraid to put it in gear. Oh… and the check engine light came on a little while after it started doing this last week. I wanted to take it to the dealer, but my uncle told me I should bring it here.”
I have a flat out response to that gambit with everyone. “I agree with you. If you’re more comfortable taking it to the dealer, then that is the place you should take it. I’ve known your uncle for a long time, but whoever you’re more comfortable with is where you should take your car.”
That upset her. Her mouth went into a little O and her eyes widened before she went on. “They want over a hundred dollars for just looking at it.”
Boo hoo! They have union employees, utility and workman’s comp expenses in the Stratosphere. That a dealer can stay in business in these times is a mystery to me, and folks, we need the dealers. We out here in independent land need OEM parts for many jobs, and the people who buy whatever brand vehicle it is, need a place for whatever warranty and recall work crops up. I decide to find out what’s wrong so I don’t piss off an old customer who refers many people to me.
“Let me scan it, and maybe I can recommend a course of action.”
Her face brightens. “Sure, that sounds good. Can I hang around?”
“Yep, just let me get my scanner and I’ll take a look right now.” I go and get my up to date, priceless tool of communication with non-breathing beings.
I get a PO171 code – meaning the computer is seeing a lean fuel mix condition. I have a pretty good idea about what’s wrong already, because I have had experience with these late model 1.8L Toyotas developing an intake manifold leak which causes a lean condition code, and causes a high RPM until it warms up. The mode 6 data confirms a problem during warm-up too.
I disconnect the scanner, and pop open the hood to check for obvious vacuum hissing noises or visible vacuum line breaks to the intake. Not finding any, I go get my spray can of Brake Clean for a quick dose around the intake. There is a definite difference in idle when I spray around the intake. I turn it off. “I think you have an intake manifold gasket problem. If you can leave it until it’s cold, I can confirm it, but I’m pretty certain now.”
“Wow… great… how much to replace the… whatever gasket?”
“Come in the office and I’ll give you an estimate.” That’s when things went inexplicably off track. Carrie Corolla perused my certificates, diplomas, and family pictures while I figured out an estimate for her. When I was done, I turned and handed her a print out for the job. “There may be something I see during the job I think you should address, but I’ll just note it down unless it’s a safety thing.”
Carrie took the estimate, and gave me one of those knowing looks of incredulity only the young can pull off. “You actually belong to the NRA?”
I’m immediately figuring the uncle, a sure fix, good business, and being able to launch a finished product in a busy day. I belong to the NRA, because without the Second Amendment, we wouldn’t have any of the other rights already taken for granted. I also belong to the VFW and the American Legion. I do not hide those facts even for business purposes, because I’m proud of them. I don’t want anyone thinking I’d disavow my military service or my right to own a weapon, or the organization that helps me keep the right to bear arms, along with backing the military that protects our nation. I try the simplistic approach, because I’m too old to preach for converts to anything.
“Yes. That’s what it will cost you for the intake manifold job if everything goes according to plan.”
“You must be a Republican.”
I smile, because this political stuff doesn’t jive with me anymore. “No, I’m a mechanic.”
“Well… then are you voting for Obama?” She gives me that annoying college girl look as if she’s been everywhere and seen everything. I do remember back when I thought I knew everything… ah… magical times.
“No, but I can still fix your car if you’d like.”
Carrie actually gives me the hands on hips, aghast stance of disbelief. Even funnier, she doesn’t follow it with any words.
I laugh because it’s all silly in a way. I’m a mechanic. I see things in black and white, yet have to vote on the most important things relating to my inner belief system on the lesser of two evils scale. I’ve come to grips with that. What’s the use in converting or getting angry about it at my age?
“You think the election’s funny?”
“Yeah, in a way.” I admit I’m getting uneasy about whether I want this job, because although I have as thick a skin as anyone alive, I don’t take crap from anyone, especially college girls. “Why don’t we concentrate on getting your car running right? We don’t even have to vote on that. You get final say, and I don’t even get a vote.”
Carrie is embattled. She’s really wound up, so much so she isn’t saying anything. She’s not sure if fixing her car is worth it anymore. I’m thinking about her uncle. In all these years doing business with him, we’ve never even broached the political realm, let alone argued over it. I like him, and I think he likes me. I’m not comfortable losing a customer/friend I’ve known for over two decades because he might think I’m slighting his niece.
“Carrie, there will be people in your life you disagree with. Part of getting older is allowing for it. I can fix your car, but you’re in no danger of my changing your mind. I play basketball on the weekends with kids as young as sixteen. They call me OG, meaning old geezer. They let me play in spite of it.”
She started laughing as soon as I mentioned OG, so apparently my young friends at the basketball court are not the only ones familiar with the term. I moved in immediately to close the deal.
“So, is this price okay with you for fixing the car?”
“Yeah… it’s fine, OG.”
“Well, all right then.” I pulled the geezer card and emerged victorious once again. I wrote up the invoice, and had it back to her at the end of the day, complete with the hairline break in the intake gasket to show her.
For the folks checking in on the PO171 blog title, it’s not always caused by a bad electric fuel pump, bad fuel injector, mass air flow sensor, or bad oxygen sensor. Sometimes, it’s just a plain old intake vacuum leak. It will be more pronounced when cold because the computer will keep adding fuel to the mix according to the signals it’s getting.
That’s it for now from automotive, political, and OG land.  :)


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm not sure what a deal breaker would be for me in hiring a mechanic or such. Maybe if they had body parts on the wall instead of car parts.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Her uncle's a great customer, Charles. I'd probably have to have body parts on the wall for him to quit coming. :)