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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Jumping Speedometer and PO720 Code on a Dodge Stratus

I hadn’t seen my nemesis, Ms. Every Detail (name changed of course, but not to protect the innocent), in a couple years. I’ve blogged about her a couple of times. She’s the older lady, who comes in with a complaint, receives an absolute bible on what’s wrong and how much it will cost. She okay’s the job, and when it’s finished, she comes right in the office, looks at the invoice she’s already signed an estimate on, and then asks, ‘so, what did we do to my car today?’. I’m then forced into an interrogation I have already explained in excruciating.
Ms. Detail comes in this morning with a 2006 Dodge Stratus, she’s replaced her prior vehicle with. She has a folder in her hand as she exits her Dodge which gives me a distinct feeling of uneasiness. I greet her politely, and she hands me the folder.
“I want you to do something about this.”
I look in the folder as if I’m opening up a contract with the devil. It contains numerous invoices, stemming from a complaint on the oldest one of a PO720 speed sensor code, and the speedometer jumping at idle as if the car is moving. Three different organizations had been into it, including a Dodge dealer in Sacramento. They had replaced all the speed sensors, the transmission harness, and finally, the computer. I looked up at that point to see Every watching me with a frown and her arms folded over her chest as if I had done all this.
I shrugged, and handed back the folder. Frankly, I didn’t want anything to do with it. She interrogates me for a half hour when I’ve fixed her cars and done exactly what I explained I would do. The Lord only knows what hell I’d have to go through with this. The problem was, I thought I knew what might be wrong, because of my obsession with haunting the Internet and various professional organizations’ archives.
“I see you’ve had a variety of things done associated with the speed sensor code you had. Did they get rid of the check engine light?”
“No! I’m still getting it, and the damn speedometer still jumps!”
“You do understand that I can’t intercede with them for you, right?”
“Why not?”
I opted for the truth. “Because I won’t. What you’ve had done has nothing to do with me. I will, as in past repairs, give you a guarantee that what I do will fix your vehicle though.”
Ms. Detail looked as if her head would explode. In a way, I understood her frustration. I also knew these shops would rather have opened a vein than ever talk to Ms. Every Detail again after not fixing her vehicle with the money they’d charged. She’s annoying enough when you do everything right. I could only imagine what kind of nightmare she was when things didn’t go right. Even if she agreed to my diagnostic check and repair, I was going to make sure the usual interrogation did not happen.
“That’s what those other crooks told me! Now you-”
“Hold on!” I cut her off before she said something that would guarantee she never got her car fixed in my shop. “What goes on between you and me has nothing to do with your prior work. If you continue talking to me as if I was to blame for your vehicle’s ongoing problem, I’m going to ask you to leave.”
I quoted her the price for a basic diagnostic check which would pay for my time in confirming what was wrong. “Another item we’ll discuss right now is that I have no intention of proceeding with you as in the past, where you ignore everything I’ve explained, and the detailed estimate you agree to, and then put me through a separate half hour grilling. Once I find out what’s wrong, I’ll explain it to you on the phone once. If you agree to the repairs, I’ll fix the vehicle, call you, collect my fee, and you take the car and confirm that it’s fixed.”
It’s a lucky thing Ms. Detail didn’t have death rays for eyes, because I would have been nothing but a small pile of carbon on the shop floor. She then agreed to the terms through clenched teeth. I took her in the office, wrote up the invoice for the estimate, and a brief detailing of our terms, including the fact my repairs would not correct anything other than the jumping speedo and PO720 code. She signed and left.
I admit I was a little excited to see if the Dodge had a problem with what I suspected. The research I’d seen listed a code and speedo jump being caused by the alternator, which unfortunately the other shops didn’t suspect. It might seem crazy, but I have had alternators with leaking diodes cause a myriad of problems, because the excess AC signal caused by them disrupts all kinds of things on the newer vehicles. I first confirmed all the evidence and repairs, and then I scoped the alternator pattern. Sure enough, it had a shorted diode. It put out enough to keep the battery charged, but I suspect if Every Detail had driven the vehicle at night with the air conditioner on, she would have had a few more symptoms. I disconnected the alternator carefully and took it for a spin. Sure enough, no speedometer jump. I called Ms. Detail up, explained the problem, gave her the estimate, and then waited for blast off.
“What!!? The alternator!? What the hell-”
“That’s what’s wrong. I told you I confirmed it,” I interrupted the countdown. “Would you like the Dodge fixed or not?”
“I want you to call those people and tell them-”
“No!” I interrupted again. “I’m not telling them anything. If you’d like, I’ll write up what’s wrong on your invoice. Then you pay my diagnostic fee, and take the car to whoever you want. I will not intercede, nor will I guarantee someone else’s work.”
Surprisingly enough, she had me replace the alternator, probably because she didn’t believe for a moment it would fix anything. I replaced the alternator, confirmed everything was reading right again, and then took it on a twenty mile test drive with air conditioner, lights, and radio – no codes, no speedometer jump. She came in about an hour ago, sat down, took the invoice from me, and you guessed it:
“What did you do to the car?”
I was ready. “Exactly what’s on the invoice.”
“Explain to me-”
“Nope.” I cut her off. “You already signed the terms of this repair, and I did explain it to you on the phone. I’m not going to do it again. Pay for the repair, and test it out for yourself.”
“I want the old alternator.”
“Sure. There’s an $80 core charge.”
“What!? I want my old part!”
“You can have it for the same $80 fee they’ll make me pay if I don’t give them the core. Once you confirm whatever it is you wish to confirm, you can bring the core back and I’ll give you the $80 back.”
After a fist clenching stare down, she paid the bill, and left… without the alternator core.
Wow, that was fun. I may get to do another blog when she rushes back in claiming ever since I replaced the alternator, her brakes are making noise (I actually checked everything possible on that test drive to avoid just that)… but you never know. In any case, I’ll report if there is a return of Ms. Every Detail.  :)


Charles Gramlich said...

I wish I had your ability to be so openly honest. I tend to hem and haw too much. let me know if I can help out on your current blog review tour.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

It's funny you mention that, Charles. I don't know why, but when it comes to talking with customers about auto repair, I'm as glib as a professional speaker. I probably should have been nicer to Ms. Detail since she was the first entertaining and blog worthy interaction in months, but holy crap, she's annoying. :)

I appreciate your offer on the blog tour. I'll be putting up the next stop on the tour today or tomorrow. I'm getting honest and comprehensive reviews. So far, I'm really satisfied with it, because the only thing I expected was some progress in the name recognition quest, and to add some decent reviews to my books on Amazon. I hate marketing, and this tour and the BTSe-mag ads have been the least intrusive and most affordable stuff I've found so far.

raine said...

Could. Not. Do. Your. Job.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

From what you've had to deal with at work, I couldn't do yours either, Raine. Although I don't do it often, I can fire a customer. :)

Joshua Sulwer said...

What do you mean by speedometer jump? I have a 02 dodge stratus that says po720 meaning no output from speed sensor. Put new speed sensor in, no change. Tested the wires to the best of my ability w help from youtube and tested the speed sensor to a degree. Only thing odd I notice is that the radio stations never go back to factory even with the battery off for a week. No other problems, though I did hear someone recently say that bought it from me (payments), that the lights started flickering sporadically but now are fine. From the few couple hour trips I've driving it, I've never noticed anything besides the forementioned po720/ fail safe mode meaning after 10-30 seconds of driving it jerks a little or a lot if pressing the gas and the code pops up, but then it drives and shifts fine until you turn it off, but I suspect it doesn't go into overdrive (3300 RPMS at 65MPH). I don't know if the alternator would fix this, do you?

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

It means the needle jumps as if the vehicle is moving, even when it's not, Joshua. The problem I found in my research had to do with an 06 Dodge not an 02. I have no idea whether the alternator would work for yours or not. As stated in the post, I have a scope to test patterns on an alternator. Take your vehicle in and let a professional check your problem. It seems you've gone as far as you can on your own.