Dec 7, 2013

Might As Well be in China

New Mexico is an amazing place. It’s one of the least educated, poorest, most diverse, least economically equitable states in the US and I have spent the last week going from one insane situation to another. The local Volkswagen dealers are staffed with 12-year-old children they imagine to be “techs” and Volkswagen is nationally known for terrible service. The child-mechanic blew me off like I was an idiot when I suggested that the VW computer might be lying to him and that going to the source of the signals, the sensors, might provide more competent information. Believe it not, computers lie, are wrong, and are incapable of doing actual troubleshooting without a competent mechanic at the controls.

I called a half-dozen independent shops and got an automatic “replace the transmission” response. Nobody wanted to hear my information about the bad data transmissions I received from the vehicle’s ECU (Engine Control Unit). While I knew the transmission could be defective, I also knew that the damn electronics where what destroyed it. Buying a new transmission without having the ECU problem solved would just be dumping a pile of good money on bad. I may not be smart, but I’m not stupid enough to double-down on a bad bet. I am not, after all, a banker. I am an engineer.

One of the guys from the Rialta Tech Forum, Burt Trattner, relentlessly added possible service facilities to my search until he hit on German Motowerkes in Albuquerque. Their website is a little deceiving: it sort of smacks of pristine and ultra organized German anal-retentiveness. But when I babied my rv 50 miles into their parking lot, I found it stuffed with dead vehicles and the shop looked like it might have been swept out during the Clinton administration. The techs, however, are fast moving, intelligent, curious, and relentless; something I’d begun to believe didn’t exist in New Mexico.

The day was going downhill fast; snow falling and the temperature dropping and New Mexico drivers are unsurpassed in their inability to manage anything other than perfect road surfaces. After a half-hour watching Rick try to reconcile the fact that the engine ECU was unable to obtain throttle position information from the fuel injection, I left for Santa Fe.

Consistent with the last week of struggling with getting our stuff and us out of New Mexico, I went to sleep worrying about where I’d take the Rialta next when this shop failed to find anything. That or insisting that we needed to spend $8000 on a new transmission and flux capacitors. So, when Rick called to tell me this story (paraphrased, but totally accurate), I was floored:

“We kept interrogating the ECU and it remained unable to obtain throttle position information. I found the computer and we pulled the connectors and cleaned them. We put it back together and tried it again. Still couldn’t get throttle position information. Took it apart, cleaned the connectors again, put it back together, and, this time, we got throttle position information. We drove it, twice, and it works fine. I think it’s ready to go. If you want to drive it a while and be sure it’s right, you can pick it up today.”

Maybe I should have, but after a week of struggling with the damn thing I wanted a break. I’ll test it Monday. We’ll drive it back to Santa Fe for a day and see how it goes. The real key is that we found an actual mechanic with actual troubleshooting skills and I am completely impressed.

Posted on German Motowerkes’ wall was an article that began with “Computers do not troubleshoot cars, mechanics do.” That pretty much summed up the kind of technicians I’d been experiencing. It’s a good lesson to remember, too. Computer analysis systems are the only practically way to find our way through the maze of EFI, ECU, the myriad of sensors, controllers, position indicators, and the interconnections between all of those components. However, computers do not troubleshoot anything. They are no more an indication of what’s wrong than a hammer can build a house. When a fool is directed by a computer, the result is expense, wasted resources, and a comedy of errors. When it’s your resources that are being wasted, it’s not that funny.


RichardM said...

What a find! A shop where they know how to do something besides replacing parts. Given the complexity of the modern vehicles I can sort of understand their attitude but troubleshooting and having a good understanding of the relationships and interactions of the components should be there. Why else should pay their exorbitant rates.

Trobairitz said...

Wow, sure hope that fixed the issue. Fingers crossed.

So nice for you to finally find a shop with actual mechanics rather than IT guys.

HSNormal said...

Ancient technician proverb: ~85% of all electronic problems are in the connectors.

T.W. Day said...

Painfully, consistently true. I was an electro-mechanical design engineer in a past life. Getting connector materials to match up, even within the same brand and model of connector was close to impossible. Waterproofing connectors is another impossible task. Convincing management that buying the right (more expensive) connector is worth the cost in customer satisfaction is totally impossible.