The trouble with cars and mechanics

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Last Friday on ABC’s “20/20,” there was a segment on how mechanics treat women and men differently.

I don’t know if this has any bearing on my car-trouble story, but I’d like to share it in hopes it might help someone else.

For a few years I’ve had a chronic problem with my car’s check engine light. It would light up for weeks at a time, then mysteriously shut off. The car was running OK, so I didn’t worry too much.

I was told a car’s check engine light is similar to trying to find the burnt bulb that keeps the strand of Christmas lights from working, and to check my gas cap to make sure it was secured properly because that can set off the check engine light.

But this was a chronic thing. Then one evening, driving home, the car started acting weird. It wouldn’t go more than 51 mph. I could only go so fast in each gear and, instead of the engine whining to be shifted, the car seemed to lose power as if it weren’t getting any gas. Shift to the next gear and I could go again, but only so fast with the fifth gear’s speed topping out at 50 mph.

A friend of mine said it sounded like bad gas, and suggested I get an additive, which did seem to help. The next day, the car ran normally.

At the local car parts store, a service clerk used a hand-held diagnostic tool to see what the problem might be. The reading said the gas was too rich, and had the words, mass air-flow sensor, O2 sensor.

While getting a front-end alignment, I had a new mass air-flow sensor put into the car. That seemed to solve the problem for about six months, then the engine light came on again.

I went to my regular maintenance mechanic, and he checked out the new mass air-flow sensor I’d had put in. He showed me it was a universal part, not one made specifically for my Kia Rio. He said I should go back to the shop that put it in and have them replace it with a sensor made for my car.

They weren’t too happy about it, but they replaced it. That worked for about a year, then the engine light came on again!

I went back to them and was told I needed their diagnostic test, a larger one at a cost of $75. It gave the same reading, so I had the O2 sensor replaced.

The car ran fine for quite awhile, but eventually, the light came on again. It was an exasperating conundrum, because at any time the car might not run right.

My maintenance mechanic suggested I go to the dealer to get the car’s computer reset.

I went to the dealer and asked how much it would cost me to get the car’s computer reset. They wouldn’t give me an estimate and they wouldn’t reset the computer without a diagnostic test first.

That ended up being a fiasco, because the diagnostic test was $95, and all I got was a $1,200 list of things they said my car needed that had nothing to do with the problem.

The computer reset was not on the list, and the sales person argued that the other repairs are what was needed. We’re talking brake pads and stuff like that. It wasn’t my first infuriating experience at the dealer. I feel like a fly caught in a spider web with them.

I left disgusted and stressed out. I have to have my car for work, and I sure as heck don’t want to end up stranded somewhere.

A woman friend referred me to a shop that works strictly on car computer problems.

The auto electrician warned me that resetting the computer might not solve the problem, and suggested I get their diagnostic test. I opted just to get the computer reset.

The car ran great for a week, then the engine light came on again. The car wouldn’t go over 51 mph either.

I took it back to the electrician. I had to leave it there and rent a car so I could go to work. I was told I might need a new computer for the car, which is pretty costly.

As it turns out, it was a crack or hole in a plastic hose than runs to the mass air-flow sensor. It’s more like a plastic pipe, about two inches in diameter and maybe three inches long. It fits below the mass air-flow sensor, and is a type of vacuum hose.

That’s why the car lost power; it was losing air pressure. I got out of there for $200, and was grateful. My fingers are crossed, and the car has been running great ever since.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.