Save Money! “A problem vs. The Problem” How to avoid wasting money in Auto Repair!

Good morning, everyone! Today I would like to cover a common problem in troubleshooting, which is establishing what is the Actual cause of a symptom vs. a problem the car has that needs to be addressed but will not resolve the symptom.

We see this issue frequently and when it is coupled with poor communication, this often can result in a client either spending scarce resources on a job that will not fix the immediate concern or feeling that they were taken advantage of either through misdiagnosis or due to outright dishonesty.


While we chat about this, I would like to first discuss Hanlon’s Razor (razors are philosophical concepts that help you to cut through complex situations and ignore unnecessary clutter). Hanlon’s Razor says:

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence

So, keep this in mind. Auto Service professionals, by and large, are just that- professionals. They are at work, they care about their craft, and they want to do the right thing. Any “professional” that makes recommendations will tell you why they make them.

Generally, when you spend money and do not get your car fixed right the first time the problem isn’t greed or fraud- generally it is under trained, under equipped or un-paid technicians causing the problem.

How WE avoid this

First, we mandate our technicians attend 6 classes per year at a minimum to stay up to date on our ever-changing systems. We also pay them for their time in these classes and management attends as well. We also do in-house training weekly for our techs to review best practices and keep our processes up to date.

Secondly, we are fully equipped. We have 4 scan tools, and three different online, professional service information services that we access on Every.Single.Car.

Third, we mandate a FULL visual inspection WITH photos of every vehicle we service. We perform an All-Scan of every onboard computer on every troubleshooting job.

Fourth, we pay our technicians for doing the work. Real troubleshooting is work, it requires tools, testing components on the vehicle, checking for TSB’s and Recalls, capturing data from data streams or oscilloscopes, pressure or volume testing, the list goes on and on. Technicians almost always have an incentive plan of some sort. If they are not given credit for accurate testing, they WILL guess to get to where they can put parts on the car. That is not a technician failure, THAT is a management failure. Can you imagine asking a CNA to check a patient in and take their blood pressure, temperature, height, and weight without being paid for it? Yet shops do this every day to their technicians. We are leading the way forward for a better environment for the technician, the customer, and our company.

Finally, we use a “traffic light” system in our inspection report, as well as organizing the recommendations on the work order to communicate if the job recommended is for your initial concern, a safety or immediate need concern, or a maintenance or upcoming concern. We see cars ALL THE TIME that have had hundreds of dollars of “repairs” made that made no difference in how the car runs. This is nearly ALWAYS due to UNDER diagnosing, not MISdiagnosing. A computer scan is not a diagnosis. It is just ONE step in a process!

This P0304 is a commonly misdiagnosed code. A repair had already been attempted.
First, we needed to gain access and remove the spark plugs. As you can see, the intercooler interferes and must be removed.
A visual of the plugs reveals that the brand new spark plug in the #4 cylinder has a problem. Testing revealed that the coil would not fire the spark plug.
We still need to verify engine integrity. This leakage test shows that there is 60% leakage through the cylinder. Normal is under 10%, so we know there has been some wear here.

The conclusion from the above is that the engine had a failed number 4 ignition coil that was missed on the initial “diagnosis”. The complexity of the intercooler and lack of access made life hard on the original troubleshooter. There is excessive blow-by on that cylinder, which leads us to advise this customer that the engine life has been shortened, but we can in fact get this engine running well for the meantime by replacing the coil.

All of these photos are emailed to the customer along with the rest of the inspection report!

Screenshot of customer’s inspection report.

Why You Should Choose Us

The average engine has become a complex beast, with high-tech advanced materials, turbochargers, direct fuel injection, and high-tech engine management. Long gone are the days when it was either the plugs, the carburetor, or internal when an engine ran poorly. There is simply no substitute for an educated, well equipped technician who does a thorough inspection of the vehicle AND THEN does the specific testing to isolate the cause of the concern.

We do this, and we do it consistently, we document thoroughly, and we maintain a high level of transparency. When a car comes in with a fouled spark plug and a misfire, we do not miss that the vehicle also has excessive blow-by. We not only determine that the vehicle runs rough due to the fouled plug, we also gain access, remove the spark plugs, and perform a cylinder leakage test to assess internal engine condition. We FULLY assess the situation, and the overall condition of the vehicle so we can not only tell you what things need to be addressed, but when and why!

We will tell you what THE problem is, not just what is A problem!

Until next time, I’m Michael Leech at Pro Auto, telling you why we’re “A better way forward for you and your car!”

See you soon!

Michael Leech