Giammalvo Files
Mark Giammalvo

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.
Mark is also a writer for Motor Age Magazine and is the past secretary of the Alliance of Automotive Service Professionals, (AASP).

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Asking All The Right Questions

(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP) 

Asking all the right questions.

Sometimes your service customers can be very helpful at assisting you in solving their car’s repair woes. Other times, some customers will make you pry the  information out of them. It can be as if they think, the more you know, the more the expensive the repairs will be. In the end, the lack of information given can result in more labor, testing, and expense.

Fortunately, late this spring, we had a service customer that gave us information from the start that led us to quickly find her driveability problem. The vehicle in question was a 2001 Honda Accord with 57-k miles. The customer stated that her car would start, barely idle and stall if the transmission was placed in gear. The customer was helpful enough to add that she had recently purchased fuel and was not sure if this was related to the problem.

Upon inspection, our technician found that the Honda’s engine would idle, better if at operating temperature, and would then stall if accelerated or placed in gear. The air cleaner box and filter were clear and the engine could be accelerated if we substituted propane. A scan tool connect reveled ‘no codes present’ which was no big surprise. A tap into the fuel line reveled that fuel pressure and volume were both normal. Question was, was this really gasoline that we were testing the pressure and volume of?

We then took our fuel quality tester and tested for water, excessive ethanol/methanol and fuel vapor pressure. The test results showed that the vapor pressure of the liquid coming through this Honda’s fuel lines indicated it contained a high concentration of ethanol or methanol. We then removed the fuel sender assembly from the trunk access plate and pumped out the questionable  fuel.  As soon as a known good supply of gasoline was added to the tank, the vehicle started, drove and accelerated normally.

When questioned further, the customer stated that, earlier in then day, she had gone to a gas station here in the city that had just reopened after being closed for several years. We contacted this station to advise them of what had happened to our customer with the Honda. The response we received was something to the effect of: ‘Our gas ok . . . no troubles with our gas’. Now it was time to give the customer the repair bill and then, there was that nagging little question . . . What are we going to do with two drums of this junk, (hazardous waste), that we had just pumped out of her tank?

The customer was presented with our bill, mostly labor at just over six hours, including a non-related fuel repair that she had also requested. The customer then drove to the station the next day and observed what appeared to be a crew pumping liquid out of one of the in-ground fuel tanks and a sign on the station stated that they were currently not selling gasoline. The customer then showed the station manager our repair bill. Fortunately, the manger was honest and stated that they had a fuel quality issue and that their insurance company was going to reimburse her for the repairs. Even better yet, several days later, an employee from the station came by and picked up the two barrels of contaminated fuel.

Although fuel quality problems are not that common in the daily routine of the auto repair world, those fuel problems are still out there, and, on occasion, they will enter your service bays. Since it is the last thing typically tested, fuel quality issues can be a real time consuming bear to solve. In the past, we have had customers that have encountered driveability problems shortly after refueling but have neglected to tell us that they had recently purchased fuel. Since most engines are presumed to have a known good supply of air and fuel, you can wind up performing tests that can lead you in other diagnostic directions, thus adding to the invoices labor total.

In the end, it is probably beneficial to ask all driveability service customers; when they last purchased fuel and how that purchase relates to the driveability issue they are having.

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