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Computers Everywhere

Written by Randy Gerdin on June 1, 2016

I joking say that if I knew that I was going to need to know how to use a computer when I was in High School, I would have been more attentive in keyboarding, back then it was called typing, when I took the class. I remember my Mom sending my brother and I to summer school for typing. I think she just wanted to get us out of her hair at that time. These days, almost everything we do in the car-fixing world has a computer attached to it. As I look out my office window, I see one technician using a laptop to test, and then reconfigure a heating/AC system to get it to work properly. Another technician is using a different computer to reprogram a Tire Pressure Monitoring sensor (TPMS) before installation. Then he will need to reprogram the vehicle so the vehicle’s computer will recognize the new sensor and integrate it into the TPMS system.

Last week we had in a pick-up truck with its check engine light on. It had a fuel system code telling us that the system was running too rich, it was receiving too much gasoline. It turned out that the truck was a flex-fuel vehicle and able to run E85 fuel, but the computer somehow got confused on the amount of alcohol in the fuel. We needed to test the alcohol content of the fuel and compare it to the reading on the vehicle’s scanner. We found that the fuel contained 5% alcohol, but the vehicle thought that it contained 22% alcohol. Since there are more BTU’s in gas than in alcohol, the vehicle’s fuel calculation was off. The repair required us to go in and reset the computer system. If the system would not reset, the power train control module would need to be replaced and reprogrammed. Thankfully the system did reset, so that took care of the problem.

It seems that daily things that used to be just “plug and play” need some kind of programming or reconfiguration in order for them to function correctly. These type of systems can be a big problem for the do it yourselfer’s out there. Last week, we had in an import vehicle that had been in a crash. The owner was working on it himself trying to get it back on the road. He brought it in with the air bag light on. Remember, if this light is on, the air bag system in inoperative. Anyway, he told us that he had replaced numerous parts related to the supplemental restraint system, but the light was still on. We did our diagnostic work and found that in this particular model, the main air bag computer would need to be replaced after a crash event. In this case, the vehicle would need to go back to the dealer and have some information extracted from the old module and then reprogrammed into the new module. We also found that this was an extremely costly procedure. This is the reason that so many vehicles these days that are involved in an accident are totaled if the air bags do deploy. It becomes too costly to repair these vehicles because the cost often exceeds the value of the vehicle.

We often see vehicles come in where the customer has been working on their vehicle and has not been able to resolve the problem. In many cases, we find that the average guy does not have the tools, techniques, or software needed to fix the vehicle. Another problem we have encountered is that the owner may have installed a new aftermarket part, and the problem still exists or will reoccur. One thing to remember is that not all parts are equal. Vehicle parts are not commodities, they are not all the same. The parts manufacturers make parts to fit every buyer these days. To some people, price is their major determining factor on which part to buy. I do understand this way of thinking, but once again, you get what you pay for. In the past, as effort to hold down the price of a repair, we have used an inferior part in a repair. However, we quickly learned our lesson that the cheaper, inferior part usually does not last or may not work properly. We find this especially true with electronic parts. We have learned over the years what works and what usually does not. Unfortunately, we too learn the hard way. I Hate When That Happens!

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