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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Come to think of it, you're going to love this.

    Instead of getting to have a lunch break, I was busy being a hero to a fellow who lost the keys to his mothers Dodge Magnum.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    edited January 2013
    This is a topic that deserves a lot more time into writing this out than I really have available this morning. Funny how that's a theme that's been underlying this whole debate over the last couple of days. On one hand you have gotten to see how each and every repair event should be approached, scientifically and with the capability to produce documentable results. On the other hand we have pressure to work at an unprofessional, shoddy level.

    I'll again link you to my facebook page and you can see just a few of the screen shots from my PICO scope. http://www.facebook.com/john.gillespie.127648?v=wall&story_fbid=124122724282154

    There are more than just these and in time they will be written into a full tutorial complete with false leads and some traps to help technicians practice gathering and then analyzing the information that they collect. Nobody ever taught techs to work this way in this trade, when I first started working on cars I remember the service manager coming over one time when I was diagnosing a horn that didn't work and he asked me,
    "Did you check the fuse?".
    "Did you check the horn?"
    "Did you check the relay?"
    etc.

    He really was trying to help me at that point but what it revealed is that there wasn't a logical approach a play. Basically if a tech guessed what to check early he/she would seem brilliant if he/she guessed correctly, and incompetent just about all of the rest of the time.

    That's where Steve's pressure ultimately leads to, and it's the incompetence that ultimately everyone remembers.

    I vividly recall the days when I had left the Ford dealership and went to a Buick/Chevrolet one and my whole world as a technician just about fell apart. Back in '82 GM had computers on just about every car they sold and since nobody paid diagnostics back then I was really struggling to put any food on the table for my wife and infant daughter. Then late in 83 my brother-in-law and I were talking about how things were going and he convinced me to get some electronics training and walk away from cars and learn to work on computers. So I signed up and studied electronics with CIE (The Cleveland Institute for Electronics). Six months later after I had completed what amounted to the entire first year of schooling, I was diagnosing things on the GM computerized cars at a completely different level than I had ever been able to in the past.

    Fast forward to now, here we are with some thirty years of continued study and raw first hand experience and we have the little debate that took place right here this past weekend. I've had to endure pressure from people who have no real training and experience to do the jobs that we do for my entire career. Pressure just like what Steve was bringing with his responses. It may be very popular to guess and guess cheaply, but experience has proven that is a fatally flawed path and that kind of pressure through the years is one of the reasons consumers often struggle to "find a good shop, and/or a great technician".

    Meanwhile trying to apply what it really takes to run a full shop in today's world automotive repair world, it is getting so cost prohibitive it's no wonder that 100-hour weeks occur on a regular basis.

    The automobiles have been evolving for decades, the work that automobile technicians must perform has been evolving too. It takes more formal training, it takes more equipment, and it takes a lot more experience than it did back in the 70's and 80's. It's going to take even more in the future.
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,851
    edited January 2013
    All that and you have time to Facebook too?

    Hyundai/Kia just came out with some remote diagnostic stuff like OnStar does, built into the car's telematics. Self-diagnosing problems is going to be the next wave. Obviously it's been happening for a while now, but the depth and accuracy will get lots better (it'd be pretty basic to track down a flaky horn, even if the diagnostic forks have to go to the door switches, the clock switch, key fobs and security circuits).

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Someone once said, if you love what you do, you never really work a day in your life.

    All that and you have time to Facebook too?

    In doubt you love walking on the beach as much as I love figuring out and fixing vehicle problems. Maybe you havn't figured it out yet but your pressure to do a lousy job amounts to another problem that I need to "fix".
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Hyundai/Kia just came out with some remote diagnostic stuff like OnStar does, built into the car's telematics. Self-diagnosing problems is going to be the next wave.

    So when the car keeps reportig that it's got a problem to an owner who want's nothing to do with trying to have it fixed, how well will that sit with the owner of the car, and just what kind of feedback will they give to consumer reports? :P

    Obviously it's been happening for a while now, but the depth and accuracy will get lots better (it'd be pretty basic to track down a flaky horn, even if the diagnostic forks have to go to the door switches, the clock switch, key fobs and security circuits).

    These systems will be good at saying something is wrong, it's a misrepresentation to pretend they will be able to determine what is wrong. There will be some pattern failures, and with specific rationality testing some codes can get to be slam dunks. But what we see in practice is these systems expose faulty diagnostic and repair routines in a stunning fashion. That means that technician competency has to rise in order to satisfy the consumers needs as systems like these become more common-place, not diminish.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    My dad used to say: "A machine is only as good as the man using it".

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  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    You never see anyone explain to the consumers that a shop will need to approach the problem their car is displaying like a detective, with a solid background in electronics, and with tens of thousands in equipment. The troubling part is this isn't new, it's been evolving for close to the last two decades but it is never explained to the consumers.

    The other part of the problem, as I see it, is that consumers generally don't know the differences between one shop and the next. Unless they go to the yellow pages and see an ad for a shop that flaunts expertise in "gremlins," as I like to call them, the assumption (without further experience to the contrary) is that any shop (especially those that are brand-specific) can fix the problem, when that is simply not true.

    I would hope that there is a shop in my area that can and does do work to the caliber you have posted here, but if there is, I couldn't tell you which one it is... and I've needed that shop on a few occasions! :sick:
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    That means that technician competency has to rise in order to satisfy the consumers needs as systems like these become more common-place, not diminish.

    To that end, have the automotive programs stepped up to train their students in these techniques? You've mentioned that you do teaching - are those specialty courses that professional techs are attending, or courses that students (pre-professional) are attending?
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    To that end, have the automotive programs stepped up to train their students in these techniques?

    Before they worry about teaching the kids these kinds of techniques, they first have to make sure that they are putting the lug nuts on the right way and torquing the wheels correctly.

    You've mentioned that you do teaching - are those specialty courses that professional techs are attending, or courses that students (pre-professional) are attending?

    Continuing educational classes for professional techs.

    We can take this discussion in a whole new direction along this topic all by itself. Guidance counselors still send the wrong kids towards the auto repair trade. We really need the kids that they are sending to become engineers, to become auto technicians. The problem is we don't have anything to offer them in the form of decent wages and benefits while they learn to be the journeymen that you need.
  • Clarkson from TopGear UK has (had?) a Mercedes CLK 63 amg 'black' edition. Nice car. The oil change shows as a countdown in days.

    Out of curiousity he waited to see what would happen if he let it go to zero. They came to his house (so he said).

    I'm picturing getting in a Kia etc and having the onboard voice nag me about something or the other every time I start it, grr. I recognise it could be useful though.

    Pete
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,851
    edited January 2013
    it's a misrepresentation to pretend they will be able to determine what is wrong.

    I don't agree. I think it's coming and going to continue to get rolled into the telematics. Right to repair should help too. :P

    The pressure is on the automakers to make cars reliable and self-diagnosing problems is a part of that. There's nothing lousy about it either.

    One of these decades we may even have self-driving autonomous cars. Or was that last year? :shades:

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    it's a misrepresentation to pretend they will be able to determine what is wrong.


    I don't agree. I think it's coming and going to continue to get rolled into the telematics.


    Well you may not agree, but what first hand experience with servicing and repairing vehicles with these kinds of systems do you really have with which to base your opinion?

    Right to repair should help too.

    LOL... R2R. Slowly I turned, step by step.......

    The pressure is on the automakers to make cars reliable and self-diagnosing problems is a part of that. There's nothing lousy about it either

    The number one way to ensure vehicle reliability is through scheduled periodic maintanence performed by a competent technician workforce. Even Honda's reputation for reliability was never just the quality of it's product it was really found in the effective training of it's owner population as to what proper maintanence really entailed. We still have manufacturers who have failed to learn from the mistakes of the past and their efforts of trying to preach their cars require less servicing has blown up in their faces.

    One of these decades we may even have self-driving autonomous cars

    Now just who is going to assume the potential liabilities for servicing one of those? We got shops that won't touch airbag systems because of the potential liability risks.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    There won't be liabilities I suspect --- Cars will become more like washing machines and TVs---you won't have to do any maintenance per se---just don't try to wash a yak in one, or knock the TV over while vacuuming. :P

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  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    edited January 2013
    I remember the service manager coming over one time when I was diagnosing a horn that didn't work and he asked me,
    "Did you check the fuse?".
    "Did you check the horn?"
    "Did you check the relay?"
    etc.


    Was he really just guessing, or just suggesting the most likely causes of a horn not working?

    I applaud your discipline in going after some of the problems you've described, such as the drain on the Ford Explorer battery. That methodical troubleshooting approach will find, eventually, all of the possible problems that may be causing the battery to drain.

    However, I also agree with those here that suggested disconnecting the remote starter system first. It's not cheating or taking shortcuts to go after the most probable cause of the problem first.

    Tell me, what would you do if you just bought a new HDMI cable to connect up between your HD TV and set top box, and got no picture? Would you pull out the HDMI protocol analyzer or high speed 'scope to try and troubleshoot the HDMI interface? Or would you just swap HDMI cables?

    What if your computer suddenly stopped talking to your router? Would you try and troubleshoot a 1 GBPS Ethernet interface, or just replace the Ethernet cable first?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    My MINI's glovebox pops open when you hit a bump. This is because the MINI glovebox latch is badly engineered.

    If you want to fix this, you can't buy the latch. If you buy a used one, it will also be defective.

    You have to buy an entire new glovebox door. And you have to pay someone to install it.

    Or, like me, you can take a small piece of foam, and jam it behind the latch, giving it the tension to remain shut that BMW engineers should have put into it in the first place.

    Am I proud of this "fix"? Yes, I am. I am $300 richer, the MINI dealer is $300 poorer, and no matter how hard the bump, it doesn't pop open---and yet you can operate it normally.

    Would I duct tape a vacuum leak? Sure. Would I duct tape a brake line? NOOOO--I call a pro, and I make sure he uses the best parts available.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Am I proud of this "fix"? Yes, I am. I am $300 richer, the MINI dealer is $300 poorer,

    When this train of thought goes by un-challenged it's no wonder consumers have trouble understanding why prices are where they are today, compared in many cases to where they should be.

    Do you know what the replacement part costs the dealer? You do need to subtract that from the money you claim that they made. Do you know what the costs for the service department being there for that period of time that the technician needs to be productive in order to do that for you? etc. etc..
    You do realize that the actual amount that the dealer was really out is just a small fraction of the cost for that repair, right?
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Tell me, what would you do if you just bought a new HDMI cable to connect up between your HD TV and set top box, and got no picture? Would you pull out the HDMI protocol analyzer or high speed scope to try and trouble shoot the HDMI interface? Or would you just swap HDMI cables

    How does this equate to what it really takes to perform accurate diagnostics? In short it has no bearing at all and really only makes for a flawed argument.

    Do you like playing Soduku? If you had no idea how to work one of those puzzles and I used the equivalent logic that the last time I did one, there was an "8" in the center square so maybe you should start by putting one there, essentially you'd have about a one in eight chance of that being correct. But wait, I think that's wrong, its not a one in eight chance its actually much worse odds than that, but we will leave the math class for another day. To someone who knows how to solve one of those puzzles they would laugh at the suggestion to randomly stick any given number in any one location to try and help solve the puzzle. Again to someone who doesn't know better they simply don't have the experience to know why, worse yet if the choose to not listen to proper advice then the expert is simply wasting their time until education and experience for the novice awards them a better insight.

    That's how obviously incorrect your suggestion to start with the assumption is to me. All I can say is, get a job as a technician and try your approach and see how long you last and just how well you do.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,050
    edited January 2013
    If you're asking me to have sympathy for the cardboard piece of crap BMW is trying to sell me for $150 bucks, and the mark-up to put this piece of junk on a shelf at the dealership, or the $100 bucks to tighten 4 screws---well, I'm sorry, that's not going to happen :P

    I also don't buy rotten bananas nor would I pay a trained "automotive sanitation engineer" to wash my car for $150 bucks.

    I pay for quality and I pay for skill--if a repair facility can't provide me that, then I really don't care if they go out of business.

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  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,851
    Depends on the puzzle. I've completed a lot of Sudukos without needing a single tick mark (my stochastic method. :) ). Other ones stymie me in spite of going beyond the ticks to looking for the X and various N-fish patterns.

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  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    edited January 2013
    How does this equate to what it really takes to perform accurate diagnostics? In short it has no bearing at all and really only makes for a flawed argument.

    The endgame is not an accurate diagnosis. The goal is to repair the problem in the most effective (re - cheapest, if you will) way possible.

    As to the Soduku analogy, you should know that at a certain level of puzzle difficulty, the only thing you can do is to try a number (out of one or two or three possible candidates), then try and finish the puzzle. If you chose the wrong number in the first step, it may not be apparent until you come across an incorrect entry, such as having duplicate numbers in the same row, column, or square.

    That's how obviously incorrect your suggestion to start with the assumption is to me.

    You're the one that seems more interested in showing off his diagnostic skills than in solving the problem.

    All I can say is, get a job as a technician and try your approach and see how long you last and just how well you do

    In my line of work, one of the things I do is tell the technicians and junior engineers what tests to run; where to probe, what to look for. And yes, sometimes it means telling them to swap out modules.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    The endgame is not an accurate diagnosis. The goal is to repair the problem in the most effective (re - cheapest, if you will) way possible.

    So how much do you charge for one of your junior engineers or technicians to show up and begine a repair?

    You're the one that seems more interested in showing off his diagnostic skills than in solving the problem

    If that's really all you understand from the topic then I don't know what else to say. Clearly whatever business you are in, you (or your people)don't have to perform under the varying expectations that mechanics face. You really should open up a shop, spend 300K to equip it just enough to get started and then try and explain to some customer who is on a fixed income why it makes more sense to guess if the reason that the ABS module on his 2003 Passat isn't communicating on the data bus than it does to test and prove it. Then once you have replaced it and it didn't fix the problem let's see you explain to him why he now owns a $650 module that he didn't need (even though it's a very common failure item).

    Maybe you'd like to take a stab at the Toyota that a fellow called about today. The transmission is randomly going into limp in mode. He needs the car reliable because (no kidding here) he is on a heart transplant list and since he isn't working he has no way to replace the car so it has to be repaired. He does have a warranty policy on it. These companies notoriously will pay one time and one time only and then expect you to fully guarantee that he won't have any more problems. Now the transmission control module is part of the valve body so we are talking $1700 installed and programmed. Are you willing to guess, or do you think it should be tested and proven first? BTW it might only act up once in the morning, it might go into and stay in failsafe all day. It's reported to not be setting any codes......

    In my line of work, one of the things I do is tell the technicians and junior engineers what tests to run; where to probe, what to look for. And yes, sometimes it means telling them to swap out modules.

    So who pays when it doesn't work? How many of the vehicle owners who post about problems here on this site do you think would like to be stuck paying for someone to do swaptronics on their cars? How much does your company charge to do that again?
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    So how much do you charge for one of your junior engineers or technicians to show up and begine a repair?

    A lot :P .

    So who pays when it doesn't work?

    The customer. Most of the programs I work on are done on a T&M (time and material basis). They also are developmental, one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art systems, so the customers understand that there will always be unforeseen problems that crop up, ones that could not be predicted, that have to be solved (and so paid for). It's a very different business model then the one you work under.

    We are always making judgemental calls about how much effort to throw at troubleshooting a problem. Sometimes, we decide that we can live with a problem with some work-arounds. Other times, we have to push deep to uncover the root-cause of the problem, and fix it, no matter what the cost.

    Let's use your Ford-Explorer-with-the-draining-battery as a crude analogy. Instead of spending the time and money to figure out the root cause of the battery draining, someone could decide that, for now, it would be acceptable to just 1) run the vehicle every day, or 2) put a low rate charger on the battery when the vehicle was sitting. While that may not seem like a good trade if the diagnostics and repairs only came to a couple of hundred dollars, it might be the "right" decision if the troubleshooting and repair would run $25K or more, as is not uncommon with many of the systems I work on.

    Now the transmission control module is part of the valve body so we are talking $1700 installed and programmed. Are you willing to guess, or do you think it should be tested and proven first?

    No, wouldn't guess on that one. But that's a different beast than the "failing the evaporative emissions check" that you favor running a full set of diagnostics on vs replacing a $20 gas cap first.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    edited January 2013
    So who pays when it doesn't work?

    The customer.


    Would you accept that from your neighborhood dealership, or repair shop?
    Let's see you explain to Steve why it's the correct approach for him. ;)

    We are always making judgemental calls about how much effort to throw at troubleshooting a problem. Sometimes, we decide that we can live with a problem with some work-arounds.

    In our world, you'd be buying back your POS.... Think about that for a minute. In short you'd be out of business so fast you wouldn't know what happened. The thing here is you aren't being forced to try to live up to demands and promises that you know you can't keep. When we are demanded (forced) to try and exceed rational expectations the only place we can end up is in failure, no matter how much effort and investment went into creating the business in the first place.

    The really funny part in all of this is when we do start to rise ahead of the norm we get to deal with comments like you made in the last response about my diagnostic strategies, and abilities. Basically I'd be further ahead to fall back into the crowd and just slam parts if your perception is allowed to stand.

    Let's use your Ford-Explorer-with-the-draining-battery as a crude analogy. Instead of spending the time and money to figure out the root cause of the battery draining, someone could decide that, for now, it would be acceptable to just 1) run the vehicle every day, or 2) put a low rate charger on the battery when the vehicle was sitting.

    Yea let's use it. It likely costs more for one of your people show up and to simply get started, than it cost this customer to get a scientifically confirmed result. Meanwhile, I'm using many of the same tools and training than they have , heck in some cases I'm probably bringing more to the game than they have to. Not to mention I have to provide every tool, and all of the programs and software out of my technicians share of the gross cost.

    No, wouldn't guess on that one. But that's a different beast than the "failing the evaporative emissions check" that you favor running a full set of diagnostics on vs replacing a $20 gas cap first.

    And here we have the golden kernel that this thread needed to expose. You can cherry pick the easiest of the failures and run and hide from the rest, but in our world there is no difference in the two of them. We have to make the same investment to handle all of the problems if we are going to handle any of them.

    How would your business do if I could step into your world, steal all of the gravy work and only leave you the disasters? Meanwhile, I'd get to be the hero because I could do it for a fraction of what you must charge, while you'd constantly hear that your ripping your customers off because of your prices?

    The Toyota is coming in Monday. He will be driving one of my own cars for the week while I figure out the problem that he is having with his car. If I'm lucky I'll be able to write the information into a class and actually get paid for fixing his car beyond just what I would make for whatever the actual repair is. If I can't well it's just another day in this mechanics life.
  • imidazol97imidazol97 Crossroads of America: I70 & I75Posts: 18,260
    > they won't need
    car service or drivers to navigate them!

    We have that now. In the metro Dayton area there often are cars that have accidents and there is no driver anywhere to be found. They just hit something on their own.
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    Let's go back to the "failing the evaporative emissions check" that you favor running a full set of diagnostics on vs replacing a $20 gas cap first" for a minute.

    Last week when I went to drive the 2009 Infiniti to work, the Service Engine Light (CEL) came on, steady. Pulled it back into the garage and took another car to work for the week.

    Looked through the owner's manual, and it said words to the effect that a steady on CEL indicated a non-serious emissions test failure, and suggested 1) making sure the gas tank was not near empty and 2) re-seating the gas cap.

    So this week I drove the car to work (CEL on the whole way) and on the way home filled up with gas. Lo and behold, the CEL went off! So, the way I look at it, I'm two or three hundred dollars ahead of the game by not running to a shop and having the CEL problem "professionally" troubleshot.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,748
    edited January 2013
    I would have done the same "repair" as you did with that piece of foam.

    I've learned that a lot of dealership and "boutique" repair shops seem to think that every car should be perfect and every repair should restore the car to the way it was when it rolled off the assembly line.

    I once had a Toyota Celica that the dealer told me needed a power steering pump reseal. After another 20,000 miles they told me this once again when it was in for service. I thought this odd because I had never had to add any fluid.

    So, when I got home I took a flashlight and a mirror and took a look for myself.

    Sure enough, there was ever the slightest seepage of oil around the shaft.

    I drove that car another 50,000 miles or so and I think, once I added a couple of ounces of fluid to top it off.

    So, did it "need" a PS reseal? According to the Toyota dealer it did but somehow I managed without it.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    So this week I drove the car to work (CEL on the whole way) and on the way home filled up with gas. Lo and behold, the CEL went off! So, the way I look at it, I'm two or three hundred dollars ahead of the game by not running to a shop and having the CEL problem "professionally" troubleshot.

    When we diagnose and PROVE that the fault really is a loose cap you're looking at an average cost under $40, not two or three hundred. Meanwhile since there is/was no testing or documentation as you have reported you really don't know if the cap was loose and causing a mil or not.The code could be anything, you are only able to ASSUME it was an evap code. BTW, haven't you ever heard that when you assume you make an a$$ out of u and me.

    Now the next question is if this was really a loose cap, why in 2009 hasn't Infinity caught up with the technology that my 2002 Explorer was built with? My Explorer runs specific testing that detects if the cap is loose after a refilling event and makes a proper report of the condition, with a loose cap light without ever having to wait for the rest of the system to run through it's testing and result in a full check engine light.

    So this week I drove the car to work (CEL on the whole way) and on the way home filled up with gas. Lo and behold, the CEL went off

    Now it's time to shout "Bravo-Sierra". Once the light comes on for a large or medium evaporative leak, it will take a minimum to two full tests, that both have to pass in order to turn the light back off, and that won't happen until the next time that the car is started after the second test completed. By design, the tests will rarely run more than once a day and your refueling event would have shut down the monitor if it was even trying to run at that time you refueled. You see there is really knowing how the cars work, and there are the myths like the one that you just tried to push.

    Let's give you the benefit of the doubt and say the mil acted exactly as you described. That can only add up to the the fault being something other than a medium or large evap leak, and it darn sure wasn't a small leak because that test runs several hours later after you turn the car off.

    Thanks for helping me make one of my points. Without real training and experience with how today's vehicle systems work, it doesn't matter what you do for a living. The simplest systems can leave you exposed as actually having no clue in a heartbeat. ;)
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,851
    My Explorer runs specific testing

    Good to see that Ford is getting there with self-diagnosing cars.

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  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    My Explorer runs specific testing that detects if the cap is loose after a refilling event and makes a proper report of the condition, with a loose cap light...

    Maybe that's because Ford has a problem designing gas caps and so puts a special "loose cap light" on the dash :blush: .
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 9,731
    edited January 2013
    I have an '02 Explorer that I bought new.
    It is a great design as an SUV.
    There are plenty of things (mechanical) that could have been executed better.
    I still would rather drive it than my '11 Explorer, other than fuel mileage.
    It's just a vehicle that my kids and I feel comfortable with.
    In all that time, it's never been anywhere other then to the dealer where I bought it for service, other than for it's 3rd set of tires.
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