Written by Dave McCracken; March 8, 2012 Share
We deal with quite a few state inspection failures pertaining to OBDII or “Check Engine Light” faults. They typically originate from cold calls since Bob is one of the certified emissions technicians listed in the State of Delaware’s Vehicle Inspection Program Brochure provided to those that fail the OBDII test. Occasionally, we have a vehicle come into our shop for OBDII repair that are in need of a safety related repair that was missed or overlooked during the initial inspection process. Yesterday, March 7, 2012, we experienced our worse case of ignorance, incompetence or blatant disregard for the safety of the general motoring public.
The vehicle was a 1998 Nissan Maxima with 234,299 miles on the odometer. According to the Vehicle Inspection Report, the initial date of inspection was January 3, 2012 with an odometer reading of 232,225 miles. The inspection report we received was printed after the 4th test and a 30 day temporary tag was issued on February 3, 2012. The report listed 6 different OBDII faults that required repair prior to any further DMV tests being performed.
Upon driving the car into one of our service bays, I noticed some irregularity in the front end when braking along with an obvious exhaust leak. Wanting to know more about what was occurring, I lifted the car in the air to do a visual inspection of the various steering, suspension, brake and exhaust components. The following pictures support my findings. For greater detail, click on each picture.
Right Front Tire Left Front Tire
Besides the obvious front tires that were worn to the point of showing the inner steel belts, I checked the front end components worn parts. The right lower ball joint was about to separate from the control arm. Both outer constant velocity joint boots were damaged and had been for some time due to the lack of any evidence of lubricating grease. Moving to the exhaust, I found the front exhaust pipe leaking at the flex joint and the rear muffler was no longer connected to the rest of the system. After making notes of these obvious faults on the customers work order, I walked past the front of the car, when something caught my eye.
Engine- Trans Support
The engine and transmission support cross member was no longer attached at the front of the vehicles uni-body framework due to heavy rust degradation. At this point it was time to call the customer and inform her of my numerous frightful findings.
While explaining in detail all of the safety related items with the owner of the car, I also mentioned that if I had the legal right to do so, I would prevent her from driving the car off of our property due to the unsafe condition of the car. To help her further understand my perspective and the severity of the problems she was faced with, I offered to leave the car up on the lift until she could come to the shop to see first hand what my concerns were.
The owner of the car arrived at the shop along with her daughter and a relative who was mechanically knowledgeable. I pointed out each safety deficiency and the associated danger. Her relative supported everything I conveyed. We both reiterated the potential danger that existed numerous times in an attempt to convince her not to drive the car. All of which was to no avail, she just wanted her car to pass inspection. What was equally disturbing was when she mentioned that the DMV inspector told her he would disregard the rear muffler issue along with the right side view mirror that was missing provided she had the OBDII faults repaired.
After all was said and clearly illustrated with respect to her personal safety and the general motoring public’s safety, I had no other option but to release the vehicle to her. I finalized the repair order documenting the safety assessment I had performed and the results at no charge to the customer. I then typed “THIS VEHICLE IS UNSAFE TO BE DRIVEN” on the repair order and had the customer sign after reviewing it before handing her the keys and watch her drive down the road.
The vehicle referenced was in such disrepair, it holds the potential to cause a serious accident anytime it is driven, putting her, my family and your family at risk. One of the front tires could blow out or the right lower ball joint could separate causing loss of control of the vehicle. The exhaust leaks could potentially cause the driver to pass out from carbon monoxide poisoning. We are all put in jeopardy because the emphasis of our vehicle inspection program is focused on emissions to maintain our Federal highway funds. We need to improve the vehicle safety aspect of the inspection program in the State of Delaware starting with the accountability of each inspector.
Written by Dave McCracken; September 22, 2010 Share
After a long hot summer and a mild case of writers block, I am going to change the tone a bit in my latest post. It is rather long, somewhat technical, but serves as an insight to a day in the life of an automotive technician- business owner, the technologies we deal with and the peculiar problems we face more often than not.
I recently serviced a 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara with the customers concern of not being able to pass Delaware State inspection. The reason for the inspection failure was that 3 of the OBDII computer monitors were not set. The monitors that had not set in a passing state were; oxygen sensors, catalytic converter and evaporative system. Delaware Motor Vehicle provided the owner a printed copy of the “drive cycle” requirements to allow the monitors to run for that specific vehicle. The owner of the vehicle attempted 3 more times over the span of 2 months while driving a total of 1043 miles in an effort to get these monitors to set. Each retest produced the same failure results.
To help you understand the technology and associated terminology contained in the previous paragraph and the following story, I will first explain those terms in greater detail;
• OBDII- On Board Diagnostics Generation 2- all vehicles produced since 1996 were engineered with this technology in the computer system to meet Federally Mandated Emission standards.
• Monitors- Self tests performed by the power train control module (computer) on the various systems that effect emissions output from the vehicle as well as control the operation and performance of the vehicle. When a monitor “sets”, it has passed the test.
• Drive Cycle- Conditions that have to be met for the various self tests (monitor) to set. A few examples would be engine temperature, vehicle speed, engine load, outside temperature, fuel tank level and internal tank pressure.
I connected one of our diagnostic scanners (a piece of equipment that cost $6000 to purchase and $2000 annually to keep updated) and performed a quick scan of the computer system to check for codes. I also verified the monitors that were not set according to the failure records from DMV. There were no faults stored in either current or pending status and the 3 monitors previously mentioned had not run. A review of current published manufacturer technical bulletins combined with canvassing the automotive forum we belong to, offered no quick solution for this problem.
With the diagnostic scanner still connected I selected all 4 oxygen sensors to monitor their activity. With the vehicle running, one of the sensors was operating at a fixed voltage rather than varying as they should, yet the reading was not outside the parameters to set a fault code for an obvious deficient sensor. To isolate the cause of this fault, I back probed the sensor to test the voltage, then tested the voltage directly at the computer harness connector and finally bypassed that circuit in the wiring harness with a jumper wire to verify and compare the various readings throughout the circuit. Prior to these tests, the possible cause was a faulty oxygen sensor, faulty wiring for that sensor circuit or an internal fault in the computer. Ultimately I replaced the failed oxygen sensor.
After retesting the system with the newly installed oxygen sensor, it was time to perform a drive cycle to see if any of the monitors would run. During the first 10 minute drive cycle, the oxygen sensor monitor set, leaving the catalytic converter and evaporative system monitors still not set. Delaware Motor Vehicle allows a 1999 vehicle to pass with 2 monitors not set, but I knew better than to call the customer and say it was repaired and ready for inspection. I allowed the vehicle to cool down for several hours and on the second 10 minute drive cycle; the check engine light illuminated indicating a fault with one of the catalytic converters.
Each monitor has its own criteria and set of prerequisites that must exist before it will run. There is also a hierarchy to how each monitor runs. In this instance, the catalytic converter monitor would not run because the oxygen sensor monitor had not set and the computer relies upon the oxygen sensors to test the efficiency of the catalyst to set that monitor. With the oxygen sensors passing their test, they were then able to determine a fault in the emission control system with an inefficient catalytic converter.
Since the catalytic converter had to be ordered from an out of state warehouse, this entire process took several days. With each diagnostic milestone, I called the customer and explained in the same detail I have illustrated here what would be required to repair their vehicle for it to meet our state inspection requirements.
Ironically, while in the process of replacing the catalytic converter I received a phone call inquiring if we do FREE Check Engine Light Diagnostics. At first I frowned, but rather than explain economics 101 to them, I directed them to call a local franchise parts store that offers free computer code checking, the required diagnostics and will then sell you all the parts for you to repair the problem. My mind wandered to the $120.00 bill I paid earlier in the day for a local heating and air conditioning company to diagnose our inoperative central air system for the office which took all of 30 minutes tops. That transitioned to the recent notice that our medical plan was increasing by 12% this year and the impact that will have on our current monthly premium that already amounts to a modest mortgage payment. The phone rings, it’s an appointment, which causes me to focus on their request. Afterwards, I take a deep breath and go back to the repair task at hand.
After completing the replacement of the failed catalytic converter, I performed yet another 10 minute drive cycle and this time all the monitors set except for the evaporative system (one of the hardest monitors to get to run and set). No pending faults were stored in the computer system, so I was 99% confident that the vehicle would now pass Delaware State inspection. The following day the customer called to report that the vehicle finally passed.
Gone are the days we could open the hood and turn a screw or simply adjust the timing and the car ran better. Does it bother me that technology has accelerated to levels well beyond those of comparable trades yet we fail to be recognized accordingly? Absolutely! But at the end of the day I head home with a strong sense of accomplishment in having a satisfied customer which makes it worthwhile.
Written by Dave McCracken; July 2, 2010 Share
For most people during the heat of summer, air conditioning is one of those creature comforts that are in high demand. To achieve the quickest results when it comes to operating your automotive air conditioning system, there are a couple basic principles we need to consider. First would be to understand the functionality of air conditioning is to remove heat and humidity, not to produce cold air. With that in mind, the inside temperature of a vehicle is substantially higher than the outside temperature after sitting in the sun for extended periods of time. So based on those facts it would stand true to improve the efficiency of your air conditioning the hot air needs to be vented by opening the windows prior to turning on the A/C.
There is yet another underlying reason for venting as much of the hot air from your vehicle prior to operating the air conditioning system which holds the potential of impacting our health. The concern was brought to my attention via a forwarded email from one of our customers, a highly respected individual in the medical field. The topic of the email specified the potential health hazard with respect to automotive air conditioning. The body of the email discusses the toxic chemicals that are released from automotive materials when superheated. After researching the topic further, it was apparent that this was a very important topic to share with our readers.
Many components residing in the interior of your vehicle contain toxic chemicals such as Benzene, which is a known carcinogen that causes cancer, birth defects, kidney and liver damage to name a few. Seat cushions, armrests, dashboards, carpeting, insulation materials, wiring and many more items, when super heated by the rays of the sun and the added effects of UV rays will release those toxic chemicals into the confined air inside your vehicle. When you enter your vehicle, you are subjected to high concentrations of these toxins. It has been estimated that the level of these carcinogens are as much as 40 times higher than the level considered acceptable by the Federal Government.
There are several ways to help reduce or minimize these effects such as leaving the windows partially open, using sun shields on the windows or parking the vehicle out of direct sunlight. Even when utilizing those measures, it would be advisable to vent the air from your vehicle prior to turning on the air conditioning and avoid breathing in potentially high levels of these toxins.
Stay cool while breathing healthier air.
Written by Dave McCracken; Monday June 7, 2010 Share
One vehicle maintenance item that can easily be overlooked is tire degradation. Studies show that under or overinflated tires increase the potential for blowouts which could result in a serious accident due to lost control of the vehicle. I have to wonder how the age of tires factors in contributing to the some of these accidents.
Recently we had a customer’s 1996 Dodge Neon towed in with the left front tire flat. I inflated the tire before moving the vehicle into the shop for servicing to avoid potential damage to the tire. After a visual inspection of the tire for the cause, I removed it and placed it in a tank of water to check for the leak. I found nothing wrong with the tire and further servicing of the vehicle determined the other 3 tires were significantly below the manufactures specified air pressure. There was approximately 41,000 miles showing on the odometer, indicating the car doesn’t get driven much. All of the tires had acceptable tread depth and showed no visual signs of external fatigue.
The owner picked up the car the next day with all tires still properly inflated. Two days later, the customer drove the car from Claymont to the New Castle area and upon their return trip home via I-95; the left front tire blew out. Fortunately the owner had experience in handling such an occurrence and avoided any further distress besides a greatly increased heart rate.
I examined the tire closely to determine what caused the tire to fail. The tire tread had completely separated from the casing and there were no signs of any puncture or impact that may have caused the failure. Somewhat puzzled in my search for the answer, I checked the date of manufacture code to determine the age of the tire. I found the tire was manufactured the same year as the vehicle, making it 14 years old. I then checked the other tires and found that the right front tire was also dated 1996, the right rear tire had been replaced some time in 1997 and the left rear in 2001. Ultimately, I recommended that we replace all 4 tires and the customer agreed.
UV rays, ozone, moisture and temperature are a few factors contributing to tire degradation. Driving on an under or overinflated tire will accelerate this process. The Federal government has mandated that all new cars have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of driving on improperly inflated tires. Since the Firestone fiasco in 2000, there has been a lot of discussion on setting a standard for the useful life of a tire. My research has resulted in the recommended life of a tire placed in service at 6-8 years from the date of manufacture.
If you drive an average of 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year, the concern over tire degradation is minimal since the tires will typically wear out before nature’s effects take hold. One exception to this would apply to tires that were manufactured and have been in stock for a long period of time. So you can not always rely on the age of the tires based on when they were installed on the vehicle.
The date code is either a 3 or 4 digit number following the DOT number stamped on one side of the tire near the bead of the tire which is closest to the wheel. The first 2 numbers refer to the week of manufacture and the last one or 2 designate the year. Three digit codes indicate the tire was manufactured prior to the year 2000 and should obviously be replaced.