Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The "Unfixable Volvo S40 (+ the fix )

(or: How I paid $1,000 to buy someone else's headache )

September 15, 2010

A new customer called with what he described as an annoying, frustrating and so far unfixable problem with his 2001 Volvo S40.

He has already taken it to the dealer five times, without success.

Problem is, sometimes, the car just would not start, turns the key, total silence.

I told him that an intermittent problem the Volvo dealer can’t fix on five tries is about the biggest red flag I can think of for potential customer dissatisfaction. I gave him a copy of my “Intermittent Letter”, which is a brief outline of how tough this might be.

One concern I share with him is that no matter what we try, can’t tell if its fixed until after a multi-day test drive. Another concern I have is that the car may have more than one problem.

He related what had been done so far and presented me with a stack of repairs orders and service records from the Volvo dealer. He asked if I could think of anything they hadn’t tried yet. Yes, the immobilizer ring might be capable of causing this. Rare, but possible. OK, throw one in.

I agreed, that in this case, “throwing parts at the problem” made sense. Troubleshooting time would be minimized, and we had a cool customer who had a good grasp of the difficulties involved.

Two weeks later, he’s back, problem still not fixed. Extremely frustrating problem, and he feels that in the worst case potentially dangerous. Did I want to buy this car? Ok, yes, and I did, at a discounted price, sort of taking into account future repair costs.

Now I am the proud but concerned owner of nice looking little car that is exuding more than a faint odor of lemon ...

Let the battle begin:

Installed fuel pressure gauges, scan tool, installed a remote starter button in the passenger compartment, started driving the car to work and home each day.

Did I mention that there were not any DTC’s ? Even in 2001 this car was equipped with fairly sophisticated on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) but it has not thrown any codes. So either we are dealing with a faulty part that’s not being monitored, or, the monitoring system itself is faulty. Sweet this is not.

new spark plugs, coil packs, tightened exhaust manifold gaskets

Drove car daily, not going too far, staying with in short-range-tow-truck distance.

engine de-sludge ( not the cause of no-start, but needed ), fuel filter,

3/10/10, finally some problem! Engine would not crank over ( total silence when key turned )
- would not crank via remote starter
- would not crank in any gear position
- also would not crank with spare key ( yes, I it’s possible for micro-chipped key to fail )
- installed test light
- Discovered test light erratic
- Discovered loose electrical connector, out of sight below brake fluid reservoir, and repaired as needed
- opened connector, sprayed with connector cleaner as needed
- crossed all fingers !

After twenty more days of daily city driving, still no problems and I’m pretty sure we’ve fixed it. Now I’m confident enough to start loaning out the car to a few customers.

The car comes back into the shop of a Thursday afternoon about 5 pm and is parked in bay #2. Just because it’s convenient, I decide to drive it home, but, no start, no crank. This is perfect and I am delighted!

Finally it won’t start, the problem is repeatable, its in the shop, all test equipment still installed, and best of all the auto repair gods and decided it should not break down in the rain, on the bay bridge.

15 minutes of troubleshooting reveal a failed neutral safety switch ( the sensor lets you start the car only if park or neutral has been selected) . The next day we order and install the part ( 3 hour job ). Now I’m really certain we’ve hit the nail on the head. Just to be sure, I drive the car to and from work for another 2 weeks.

Hopefully gentle reader, I’ve been able to convey to you how difficult it can be to predict in advance the cost in labor and parts and inconvenience when dealing with a no-code intermittent.

No comments:

Post a Comment