A Closed Mouth Can’t Be Fed O’Rings
On October 4th 2007 our car blew the intake manifold gasket and white smoke was venting out the tailpipe. We called to have it towed and a flat bed truck hauled it to the dealer.
There were a few things wrong with the repair. For instance the new fuel filter I had them install at the same time leaked. So I took it back and had them correct it and ended up writing a strongly worded business letter to them.
The new black plastic intake manifold that looked like a covered wagon they put on was an expensive repair. I had them save the parts for me so that I could take them home and look at them and learn. The black intake manifold looked the size of a small poodle. All it really needed was four feet a tail and head with some ears to look abstractly funny. The greasy thing sat outside for three months before I took it in the basement to clean the crud off of it in the washroom sink. I scrubbed It some and after not getting it satisfactorily cleaned after awhile ended up putting it in a 6 gallon bucket of hot water with washing soda to sit for just the right amount of time to dissolve the grease. I put a lid on the bucket in case I had to do something else before I could get back to it. It sat there over winter until I begrudgingly emptied the water and gave it a scrape and rinse and decided to set it outside in the hopes that the sun and oxidative properties outside might lesson my burden. I guess my hope was that if it sat out there awhile that perhaps haphazardly someday I might find some proper appendages for it.
Anyhow my mother was driving to her sister’s house in Iowa during the summer of 2008 when about forty miles into the some 400 mile trip the check engine light went on. She stopped at my sister’s house along the way where my brother in law checked it and said the oil and water were good. He thought it might be a code like the one that comes on in his car that tells him the catalytic convertor comes on at which interval he has a friend at a shop just erase it with the computer.
When she safely got home with the car home I checked the code with a reader I bought from a discount online hardware store some time ago. The code read two instances of P0401 which pertained to a low flow EGR problem. I researched the problem and went to the local auto parts store and put one in. Part of my rational for purchase was that an EGR valve recirculates unburned hydrocarbons back into the engine thereby providing for cleaner emissions and better mileage. Anyhow it was a relatively simple procedure, disconnect the negative battery terminal, gently pry back the retaining clip to the wiring harness and pull straight up, then loosen the two nuts on the threaded valve posts that hold the EGR valve on the surface to be cleaned where the old gasket for it was…
However the next time I took the car out on a good highway trip the check engine light came on again after about 40 miles and it turned out to be the same code. I proceeded to clean the tubes to it thinking there might have been something I missed before, but they were already clean.
So after awhile I called the dealer and told them that I had a specific code P0401 that I needed diagnosed. They quoted me a price for which they would diagnose that problem and said that I could come in promptly that afternoon. I took it in and told the service writer the very specific problem and asked to talk to the mechanic before he worked on it. He gets tired of my questions tells me that I can wait in the waiting room and ostensible holds the phone to his ear. I sat there for little bit and then missed that opportunity to talk to the mechanic freehand when I told the service writer that I was going to get lunch and went to a grocery store across the street and bought a half pound of chicken wings mild, four potato spears and a carbonated soft drink which I brought back to the dealer and ate in the lounge.
While I was sitting in the waiting room eating my greasy feast I started talking to a salesman from the place. I believe there are profound things to learn from everything you do in life. In response to something I said to him he said to me, “My mother always told me, a closed mouth can’t be fed.” This has always been my policy too, but I had never heard it stated so succinctly.
When I was called back to the service writer he told me that it was the PCV valve. And that he got a different code on his machine than the one I had to just mention. I asked to talk to the mechanic. He told me it was missing an O-ring. They usually don’t go anywhere as per my understanding when they are in a post and socket configuration. I told him that the reason I brought the car in was for the other code. He told me my code was dependent on feedback from the O2 sensor which monitors exhaust gases in terms of engine efficiency and the map sensor which monitors manifold pressure which I thought might be related to the PC valve (which stands for positive crankcase ventilation) and the vacuum system.
The valve sits in a collared hole on the left side of the black plastic intake manifold which looks to me like the canvas canopy of a covered wagon from the old west. Incidentally I was wearing my cowboy hat all that day. The PCV valve is held onto the manifold by a plus or minus 1/8 turn locking plastic fixture.
Before I left the dealer I asked if the service writer if he could look in his computer and see if a pc valve was put in at the 2007 work, knowing full well that I had put one in at some time. He slightly reluctantly did and proudly told me no.
I then went to pay the cashier and explained to them, “You know that is not the specific code I brought this car in for the one I mentioned that you said you would diagnose for today’s fee.” I added is there any kind of warranty on this work considering that what I brought it in for , the code that I mentioned when I called might not have been diagnosed like I was told it was. The guy told me something to the effect of 12 months or so many miles on the work they did. Whereby another cashier abruptly and quickly said, “Mind if I interject?” The word “interject” would ring true with me until my next visit with them, and I allowed her to “interject”. “She told me that I should not have erased the code.” I told her that, “I can erase the code if I write it down and still know what it is.”
The mechanic printed me a chart per my code and brought to me at the cashier and we talked some more.
Anyhow another guy is paying through a third cashier, and the guy I’m talking with offers him a cookie. In a few moments when it came my turn to pay he did not offer me a cookie so I asked, “Aren’t you going to offer me a cookie too.” And he in turn offered me my choice of sugar or sugarless. Which I happily took and walked to my car.
I go to the car and see that it is not washed as was usually the case with service work performed and that I had asked them if they would when I brought the car in earlier that day and they said they were going to. So they did.
I go home with the car and it runs a lot smoother than it has in the last ten months. So I go to my meticulous records for the car which I keep on a spreadsheet and see that I did indeed put the PC Valve in, in 2006. I then go outside to look at the engine, and see that there is no way that you can put a new intake manifold in like they did in 2007 without reinstalling the PC valve. By the way the PC Valve housing on the manifold somewhat resemble an “Injector” to me.
I call the dealer and ask to speak with the manager, and got the part owner who professed to not know anything mechanical about cars. I somewhat strongly explained it was their fault and he told me he would talk to his service manager and they would call me back.
I went outside to clean the mess of tools and stuff I had made and while doing so go the phone call from the service manager. He told me that that was an aftermarket part and they don’t service them. I thought to myself I did not pay you to put my car back the wrong way. I then told him that there was no way that you could install an intake without reinstalling the PC Valve which was contrary to what he said to me. He told me that’s all one unit and blah, blah, blah. He argued some more and I said rather loudly, they could hear me from the tennis courts across from my garage phone. “There is no way you couldn’t have!” I then decided to go for more evidence to complete my visual picture at which point I said, “Can you wait a minute.” I walked out of the garage and onto the deck grabbed my $1570.00 appendage less poodle, covered wagon, warped intake manifold or whatever you call it. I take a quick look at it before I head back to the phone. The PC Valve O-ring was still in it. You know the one that should have been put back in the new intake properly and non-negligently upon the costly repair in 2007. With the Manifold in my left hand I marched back to the phone shaking livid mad and told him. “The one you took off in 2007 is in my left hand and the PC Valve O-ring is still in it and I want my money back!”
He told me that I would have to bring it in and I argued that I shouldn’t but decided to agree and then thought I am going to tear back there and, and, and gently shove this, I mean set this on his desk for discussion.
I do so and explain it to him again and he says to me, “I am going to give you your money back but I want to know why the PC Valve code triggered now and not after three driving cycles like it should have. After I pause to ponder his question he adds,”So I know what to tell my customers if this happens again. I told him that I hadn’t touched the PC Valve after their repair work in 2007, which was indeed true. He asked me again and I said to him, “You guys are supposed to be the expert’s you tell me why that PC Valve code did not trigger since you reinstalled it in 2007.” At which point our we agreed on a joint analysis to the effect that maybe when the mechanic was doing his testing today he jostled something and maybe it loosed from its statically held in place status.
After a few more questions from me he stood up out of his chair and said we could go to the cashier now for a refund to my credit card. We did. I got my refund for the day’s work. And I decided not to ask the cashier for a cookie this time after he yet again did not offer me one.
He walked me to my car and I told him that if the P0401 code came on again I would consider us back at square one like I did today and bring it back in for diagnosis.
Copyright 2009 Thomas Paul Murphy