Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.
Mark, who has been with the business for
over 20 years, is an ASE
Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE
L1 certification, and has an associates degree
in business management.
(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP)
Can't you just put the light out? How often have you been asked that question? I don't know about you but I am getting sick and tired of giving the same explanation. I think my customers are getting tired of it too.
It all started with a customer with a late model Volvo. This customer had just come in for routine maintenance and was about to drive out. Seeing me walking through the lot, he waved me over to his car. The Volvo owner wanted to know if I could just "put out the light" that was glowing brightly at him on his dash. Knowing we had just serviced his car today, I started wondering if one of our technicians had forgotten to reset the maintenance light after the oil change service. After more questioning, it turned out that the light this guy was talking about was the "check engine" light. The light had been on for months and the customer thought that we would have just "put it out" during the oil change service. At that moment I realized I would have to go through that special customer education process again. You know, that process when you stop everything your doing. That process when you look right into the customer's eyes and explain how complicated cars are to service. That process when you explain how we cannot just turn off warning lights at a whim. Even after my elaborate explanation I find some customers presume that technicians have a mighty, wizard like, power. A power that we can use to rid any car of any ailment. Just like that magic computer they think exists that can be hooked up to their car. That magic computer that tells you "what's wrong." Sure, I wish.
The customer insisted that it was probably "something very simple like a little glitch or wire." In the back of my mind I started thinking: "With all the time I spend testing and diagnosing cars today, I wish it were something that simple." Unfortunately, as with most electronic components today, simple is rarely a term that can be used in automotive diagnosis. Fact is, there is nothing simple about the automotive diagnostic process today. Just to begin with there are hundreds of different fault codes that can illuminate the check engine light. I explained to the customer that electronic systems and subsystems have to be first inspected then tested. Then maybe, just maybe, a cause can be found and an estimate then given for repairs. However, if the problem is intermittent, the cause will probably not be found during the initial repair visit. I explained to the customer that even if I did attempt to hook up a scan tool and clear the fault code it would only be a temporary measure. The check engine light would most likely return immediately or within a short period. Finally I gave the customer an estimate for a typical diagnosis. Simply stated, it is one hour of diagnostic time and a fee for the scan tool. With that, the customer quickly thanked me, hopped in his car and drove away. Perhaps, the customer decided to wait a few more months to see if the light goes out on its own. Then again, perhaps he will go off into the world searching. Searching for that magic wizard. That wizard with special powers and the magic computer that can instantly reveal what's wrong.