What happens when a mechanic CANT fix your car

Every once in a while a car comes around that is sent straight from hell. The crazy problems that keep me awake at night. Things that, if you were a professional writer, you could not even make up. When this happens, having a game plan to crucial!

There are times when we(mechanics) just can’t figure out whats wrong with a car. When this happens we have to take things to the next level. Thankfully this is not something that happens a lot, but when it does, it can make for a bad day!

STEP 1 ~ Ask another mechanic
This is usually the first think that a mechanic does when they can’t figure out a problem. The guys working next to me are a HUGE resource of knowledge. The odds of them running having ran into a similar issue is pretty good.

The other good thing about asking the guy in the next bay is a totally different perspective. They come in with a fresh set of eyes. There comes a point when frustration starts to set in. Getting a fresh pair of eyes, and a fresh mind is always a good choice.

Step 2 ~ Take a break
You would think that this would be step 1, but it usually falls to number 2. If you have asked someone working next to you for help, and could not come to a conclusion, you are starting down an unhappy path. Much like asking someone else, taking a break will gives a chance to clear your head.

Walking away for a couple of minutes is a perfect way to think about the issue while not buried under it. If I smoked, this would be the perfect opportunity to burn one, then come back and reevaluate the problem

Step 3 ~ Computer Research
If you have not fixed a car by now, its time to break out the old repair manual. Depending on what the problem is, VW has several different resources available.

  1. Standard repair manual. ~ This is the (online) book that has information to fix our cars. It contains some information, tests to run on components, wiring diagrams, and some VERY basic how to’s
  2. Scan tools ~ Our scan tools does more than just tell us the faults stored in all the vehicle computers. They have software built in that adds different tests based on the faults. The tests are not the end all of solutions, but it can give some ideas on where to go next.
  3. Technical Service Bulletins(TSB) ~ This is a repair update that is issued by a manufacturer. It can be anything from a tip to fix a rattle, to tips on diagnosing transmissions. They are NOT recalls. Customers will not be notified about them. This is something a mechanic can use to help fix/diagnose a problem. This information is available to anyone that wants it.
  4. Tech Tips ~ This is something that VW issues to us mechanics. It is either the precursor to a TSB, or just a quick tip. Usually a very short blurb about a issue with a car.
  5. Google ~ If 1-4 do not work, Google can be a life saver. There are lots of really sharp people that have put great info on the web. I am not too proud to do a Google search 😉
Step 4 ~ Call in reinforcements
Now that you know your getting your butt kicked, its time to call in the big guns. VW has a program set up to help mechanics when they are stuck on a problem. Its called VW tech line. What we do is, send an email to our VW tech help line folks. We attach diagnostic logs, photos, videos(I have never attached a video), and answer several questions about the issue with the car.
After sending the email, we have to call the guys at tech line and talk to them. They usually ask the very simple stuff like “did you check the battery, did you check this, check that, is the car on fire?”. After the basics are covered, its time to get to business. They have access to all of the cases from VW. They can tell how many times someone has called tech line about this issue, and what they did to fix the problem. It usually takes a few calls to get an issue resolved.
Step 5 ~ Dispatch the top dog 
When all of the above fail, the top dog comes to the dealer. We have a regional guy that travels to dealers to help fix the REALLY broken cars. There is warranty criteria that requires him being dispatched. I am pretty sure I can’t talk about what that is. This is the guy that has all the connections to the really important people in the company.
The guy we have now is pretty awesome. He worked as a VW tech line guy for years. I acutally worked with him years ago, when he was a tech line guy.  This is basically the last line of repair. I have not ran into a car that between the regional guy and myself, couldn’t be fixed.
Step 6 ~ T.M.I.
If it comes to this, its time to T.M.I. or Trade Me In! I heard that saying on CarTalk, btw. I think the more appropriate thing to say is buy back. There is lots of legal mumbo jumbo about buy backs that I really don’t care to talk about. I am mostly just joking around about trading cars in.
More often folks will trade because the repair is too costly, not because I can’t fix it.

19 replies
  1. Rudy
    Rudy says:

    Hey bud, this reminds me of the post I put up on your wall on FB about water leaking in my passenger front window on my new Sportwagen. It was at the dealer twice and they weren’t able to repair it so I had to bring it in a third time to have Step #5 done and I wanted to update you and let you know that you were right. They brought in the top dog and it’s been fixed!

  2. Gary
    Gary says:

    I had a good one 92 Honda accord. cranks no start, fuel, spark, good cam turning, pulled #1 screwdriver in the hole rotate to tdc,distributer appeared to be ready to fire #1 cyl, as a last resort pulled timing belt cover,Bingo! belt slipped 1 tooth, I have replaced lots of these things all totally wiped or snapped and the cam not turning, never saw one skip just one tooth, The customer was lucky accords have interference engines

    • Humble Mechanic
      Humble Mechanic says:

      Thats crazy! I think the only ones I have seen out of time, was due to poor job replacing timing belt. Other than the ones that straight broke. We only have 1 non interference engine, and they are a 50-50 shot of bending valves.

      • Winborn Gregory
        Winborn Gregory says:

        I’m really enjoying these old posts. Question: Which VW engine is non-interference? I’ve seen a ’93 EuroVan 5-cyl survive a break. Also, a 2.0 ABA (I think) in a ’97 Jetta survive. I’ve rebuilt heads in at least three 2.0 AEG engines with bent valves as well as a bunch of 1.8 turbo engines. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen a 1.9 TDI with a belt problem. Diesel owners are stickers for maintenance!

  3. Lois
    Lois says:

    1992 Plymouth Vista has been at the transmission shop for 9 months now., Keeps sending a speed sensor code and throws it in safe mode. They have tried trading out speed sensor parts and it made no difference, they bought a new computer from Japan for the transmission and we have had the transmission rebuilt. We are about to go sign the title over to the mechanic in hopes it will cover the bill. They just are at the end they said. They no have no idea what to do now. Any suggestions?

    • Charles
      Charles says:

      Hey Lois,
      That really stinks about your car. 9 months is CRAZY! Depending on which speed sensor is acting dumb, would guide my diagnosis.

      I am not very familiar with that car, but there are only a few issues that can be the problem.
      1) wires
      2) sensor
      3) another sensor causing a false reading
      4) the wheel or ring the sensor uses to figure speed.

      I wish I could help you more.. Keep me posted.

  4. Lois
    Lois says:

    Any suggestions of Plymouth Vista AWD keeps going into safe mode on the automatic transmission. Has been at the trans shop for 9 months now?

  5. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I think the trans shop has done what they know to do. If the gear in the trans, the sensor, and the computer have been replaced the only thing left would be wiring or another sensor. As long as the trans shop has done the repair work correctly! I would also want to see the wiring diagram and check all fuses, relays, and ground stations for that circuit.

  6. Tavish
    Tavish says:

    Humble Mechanic, I’m at my wits end here.. I’ve taken it to three different people on the same issue, and I don’t know what to do. My car, Lucy, 2002 Dodge Durango SLT , got bouncy and spuddered to a complete halt while I was trying to get her to keep to 30mph in town (70 in the super highways.) She refused to even start back up, only to again, spudder and die, in 5 seconds. First mechanic thought it was oil change. (wasn’t.) Second, cleaned the main torque (I think) and that wasn’t it. Third replaced spark plugs, wires and a leaky oil tube near the engine. (It was close, but.. no.) Now, I bought a FIxd OBDII meter and it pointed out a P0171. I took it back to the third and the claim is “We tried her to recreate the scenario, but she wasn’t doing it.”

    I know I’m not crazy, but I’m desperate for answers.. I’m iffy on the steps, but I would like your opinion at least..

  7. Carlito
    Carlito says:

    I have a 2003 Honda Civic that I think is hunted. I have taken this car to at least 7 different mechanics including the Honda dealer and no one can figure out the problem, crank no start. The biggest issue is that once is at the shop the car starts no problem, once home it’ll start for a couple of days and then back to crank no start. The problem seems to happen during the warmer months, during the winter, I had the issue but once the car cools down (1/2 hour or so) the car starts no problem, but in the warmer months it would take from couple of days to a couple of weeks or until I have to get it towed to the mechanic who cannot fix it because the car starts, 3 times paid to have it towed only to have to drive back home with nothing being done.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] It is what we use when we need more help fixing cars. I wrote a post about what happens when a mechanic can’t fix your car a while back. It talks more about tech line. I called the folks at VW. After going through the […]

  2. […] of the great things about being at a dealer is we have several layers of assistance to help when a mechanic cant fix a car. Then there are the times that all the assistance in the world doesn’t help, and you have to […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply to Humble Mechanic Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.