Monday, March 25, 2013
Rick Cantelli, P.I. - Part 8
First before I retell what happened this morning, I want to give the link to Rick Cantelli, P.I. – Part 8. This newest adventure with my aging P.I. is 6,000 words. He and his partner Lois investigate a business investment offered them to buy into a café. Rick polishes off his investigative skills for this one, and yeah, there’s humor. My book sales have been good, and I keep waiting for the wave to crash into the rocks. :)
On to my incident this morning in non-fiction auto repair land
This morning a rough looking lady drove a 2007 Chevy Malibu with 2.2.L engine into the shop. I say rough because she was wearing dirty coveralls with an equally dirty black stocking cap. Her hands were dirtier than mine, so she wasn’t using gloves. She was about 5’ 7” tall, mid thirties to mid forties, and thin. She will be referred to as Mary Malibu for this story. Mary did not smile after exiting the Chevy.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“How much to check out a charging problem?”
I told Mary, and her facial features screwed up into a very unbecoming mask. I understand this is all a game, because I know what any initial electrical diagnostic check costs at the dealer. I’m half what they are.
I do kid, but not with strangers, and never about business. “No Ma’am, I’m not kidding.”
“The dealer doesn’t charge that much!”
“Let’s use our inside voices, Ma’am. I can hear very well. Yes, they do. They charge double my charging system diagnostic fee, but you’re welcome to check with them.”
The facial mask turned sullen, because I imagine she’s already checked with them. “I want to leave the car for the diagnostic. The battery light is on and I just changed the battery.”
“I’ll get an invoice.”
Ten minutes later, Mary’s ride picked her up, and I moved the Malibu over into a stall. There were greasy hand prints everywhere, which is not a shock. It helps because I can trace Mary’s actions pretty well from the print evidence. I did a quick check for loose connections, and obvious harness problems. I then hooked up my scanner and started the Chevy up - no charging voltage.
I shut it back off. The next move is to check for power at the alternator – no power. These systems incorporate fuse wires which melt internally if something goes wrong. I found a melted fuse link wire at the starter. For vehicles even 6 years old, that’s an odd occurrence. I checked for short to ground at the alternator, but it was okay. I replaced the fusible link wire and started the car. Everything worked fine. It charged and the battery light went out. That’s good news and bad news, because those fuse wires don’t blow on their own. I considered Mary had hooked the battery up backwards, but that mistake would have blown more than a fuse wire.
After cleaning the handprint evidence, I completed the invoice and called Mary.
“I need to ask you about what you did while working on your car. I-”
“I didn’t do anything to the car but change the battery! I’ve been working on my own vehicles since I was a kid.”
“Just take me through your battery change. How did you know it needed a battery?
“It was turning over slow when I’d leave it for the weekend, and it was the original battery. I knew it wasn’t the charging system. I tested it.”
My spidey sense began tingling. “How did you test the charging system?”
Mary clucked her tongue in that way people have when they think they’re wasting their time. “Just like I’ve always done it. I started up the car and disconnected the battery negative terminal to see if it stalled out or not.”
Bing, bing, bing, we have a winner. “Okay. You can come pick up the car. It was a blown fusible link wire that protects the system during spikes in the current and voltage past safety parameters. When you took off the negative terminal, it blew the fusible link wire. I replaced the wire and it’s charging now. I needed to find out why it blew the wire before releasing the car.”
“You can prove it for yourself, but I wouldn’t advise it. You can also damage the on-board computer doing that, but it doesn’t matter to me. One thing though – if you decide to pull off the negative terminal and refry the fusible link wire, call someone else to fix it.”
“I want proof the charging system’s working too.”
“I’ll have the scanner hooked up and you’ll be able to see the charging volts. Plus, the battery light is now off. We won’t know if you’ve damaged the computer for a while. The mode 6 data is good so far, but you won’t know about the computer until you drive it for a few weeks.”
Mary hung up on me, rushed to the shop, and I showed her the charging volts. She saw the battery light was out. After paying the bill, she left without a word. I doubt she realized I could have sold her an alternator job too. Oh well. :)
Folks. Do not disconnect the negative battery terminal when a vehicle is running under any circumstances! You cannot even imagine the potential problems you can cause. That’s it for the auto repair part of the blog.