Is this Car Haunted or Is it Just an Intermittent Car Problem?

by | Oct 31, 2016 | Auto Questions, Car Problems & Repairs

Recently, I stood in as the courtesy van driver. It’s always a fun job; I hear so many stories and my first trip out was not an exception. One of the customers described the problem he was having with his car. He said it felt like it was haunted! It had symptoms that came and went in no particular pattern. He asked me how we diagnose something like that, and I explained how we approach this type of “intermittent” problem.

I started out by acknowledging that intermittent problems can be tough to diagnose. As car manufacturers load up their vehicles with more and more computers — all on the same network — it doesn’t take much to send things haywire. Fortunately, we do have a process to find the problem.

Recently we had a customer bring in a Mercedes sedan with an instrument cluster that was acting very erratically. The auto technician began the diagnosis by first checking to see if this issue was common for  this particular make and model. The technicians have many resources that can be accessed, right at the car, on their iPads to help them diagnose car problems. This includes hot lines, technical libraries and peer networks.  As it turns out, the problem with this Mercedes hadn’t already been documented, so the technician knew he was on his own in diagnosing the problem.

Once an auto tech discovers an intermittent problem that hasn’t already been documented, our first step is to explain to the customer that getting to the source of the problem can be a long, drawn out process. Unfortunately, there isn’t a set price because the diagnosis can take one hour or many hours.  It’s tough news for our service advisers to deliver and tough for our customers to hear, but it’s reality. Situations like this require outstanding service advisers and ours are some of the best in the business. They make sure to outline each step of the diagnostic process for the customer.  That way, our customers will have the best perspective we can offer on exactly how our technicians will go about getting to the root of the problem.

Our service advisers and customers have confidence in the work our technicians do because they are well-trained and very conscientious. Plus, they have access to the best equipment.

In the case of the ‘haunted Mercedes’ it took about nine hours to track down the problem. Our technicians are required to document each and every step, and in this case, we ended up with several pages of notes along with several printouts. In the end, the problem turned out to be in the radio circuits that communicate with the body computer. As it turn out, this particular radio was no longer available, so we couldn’t replace it. Fortunately, our skilled technician was able to come up with a way to take take the radio off the computer network, thereby allowing it to be operated manually by the customer.

After many hours of research and work, we ended up with one less ‘haunted’ Mercedes sedan.

Happy Halloween!


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About the Author

About Brian England

Brian England, the current president of BA Auto Care (formerly British American Auto Care), got his start with an auto apprenticeship in a small town in northwest of London. He came to the U.S. in 1972 to work for a Land Rover dealer in Rockville, MD. A few years later, he started British American Auto Care with his wife, Jennifer. Brian is a big believe in preventative maintenance, and his philosophy is to encourage and educate drivers on the benefits of a regular maintenance plan.