Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Autorepair: Diagnose The Problem WITHOUT Spending a Fortune.

Chilton's Manual: The bible for your car.
I've recently been blogging and commenting about how hard it is to save and prepare when life is lived paycheck to paycheck. This is certainly a common scenario felt by many people. Just when you think there will be a little extra cash after paying bills...another NEW bill pops up: medical bills, automobile repair, house repair etc. I even had a collection company call me, for the first time, about an Anesthesiology bill for when my 5th daughter was born three years earlier. Three years? I finally have some extra money and you want me to pay a medical bill I didn't know about...from three years ago? Nevertheless, I settled for half the amount and paid the bill. Grrr.

So, on that topic, I have had a very unusual problem lately. You know how when you turn your car's blinker (turn signal)  on it makes that tick, tick, tick sound in sync with the flashing lights? Well, my tick, tick, tick was ticking ALL THE TIME! Whether we used the blinker or not, the sound was NON_STOP. Talk about annoying!

I finally pulled over and popped the breaker fuse out of the fuse box. Sure, I had no turn signals now but I had peace and quiet. After dropping the kids off at school, I swung by the car dealership where I take the Suburban for things I can't do myself. I had planned my questions in advance so that I could milk as much information out of the service technicians as possible WITHOUT having to pay the huge "diagnostic fee."

This is somewhere in the shop of every dealership.
I pulled in the service drive and hopped out of the truck. "Hey, have you guys ever heard of a turn signal that keeps making noises even when it's not turned on?" Three guys behind the counter looked at each other and shook their heads. I've peaked their interests. One tech said that sometimes theres a module under the backend of the truck and he crouched down and looked underneath. Nope. Nothing there. Let me go ask Mark!

He walked to the shop area and came back a few minutes later with news that Mark could get under the dash and have it fixed in under 30 minutes. I asked "How much?" The tech said, "Well, its probably the flasher and all total it runs about $250." I said, "No, how much is the cost to have him diagnose the problem?" The tech said "Oh, $107."

So, I've had a Service Technician physically inspect the truck. The mechanic has reported that it is probably the turn signal flasher. I haven't spent a dime and I happily explain I don't have time to wait at the moment so off I go to buy a Chilton's Manual.

The Chilton's Manual, for those that don't know, is the how-to book for your car. You can buy a Chilton's for just about every make, model and year. It goes chapter by chapter through your car and how it is put together. I'll be looking up the turn signal flasher to find out exactly where it is in the truck and how to replace it. A quick call to the automotive parts store reveals that the part for my vehicle is $14. Yup, $14. A quick google search for "2001 Chevy Suburban turn signal relay" shows me several pictures of what the part looks like.

Another option is to google your problem. I searched "my turn signal keeps clicking" and sure enough, there are several entries where people are asking the same question. Sometimes you have to change your wording around to find the results you need but in today's internet age, there aren't many questions that haven't already been asked by somebody somewhere on the internet. Most of my search results have answers relating to the turn signal relay/flasher. Looks like I'm headed in the right direction. If I'm lucky, the automotive parts store clerk will be able to tell me roughly where the flasher is located and I won't even need a Chilton's. Since I've had the truck for over a year now though, I think I'll go ahead and invest in one.

The last bit of advice I'll give is on diagnosing engine lights. My Jeep right now has a Check Engine light on. As I said a few paragraphs ago, the dealership wanted $107 just to diagnose my problem. I learned years ago to use an OBDII engine code scanner ($30.) This is a handheld device that plugs right in to the little computer module that sticks out from under the dash right above where your left leg is when you drive. The OBDII simply plugs in to the port and you turn it on. Then turn on your car just enough that the radio comes on, don't start it all the way to running. The scanner will do a little diagnostic test and show you a diagnostic code on the screen (sometimes more than one code.)

With this code, you can look up EXACTLY what is wrong with your car using the accompanying CD software that comes with the scanner. For my Jeep, the code is P042 which turns out to be related to the catalytic converter. A quick wiki search teaches me that the converter is used for emissions and wasn't used in mass production until 1975. This tells me several things. I don't have a MAJOR repair on my hands that requires me to be without a vehicle so no worries there. It also tells me that I can continue to drive without causing major damage to the engine. Sure, gas mileage may decrease or it may idle a little rough but it will make it until payday and I'm not due for an emission test any time soon. I'll repeat the same process that I used for the Suburban. Search google for forums discussing how people fixed their jeep P042 code problems. Read through my Chilton's Manual and go from there.

In summary, when you have car problems:

1- Drive to (or call) a mechanic (or several mechanics) and find out what they think it could be. I've found that over the phone, they're more likely to tell you to bring the car in so they can see it.

2- Ask the auto parts people what they think. These folks sell the parts to fix everything. They are VERY knowledgeable and their usually happy to help you install it since their vested interest is in simply SELLING you the part, not the labor.

3- Use a $30 ODBII scanner to diagnose your own engine codes. The scanner will pay for itself the first time you use it. I take mine on road trips too, just in case I get an engine light in the middle of nowhere.

4- Use the knowledge of the internet. Search for images of the part you need, where it goes on the vehicle, and what other people have done to fix the problem. Don't forget YouTube. Many users have made videos showing exactly how they fixed it.

The less you rely on other people to fix your car, the more self sufficient and confident you will become...and you're guaranteed to save money in the process.


  1. Somehow there is a trick to be able to get it to flash the code using little more than a paperclip. The manuals are great though.. my husband found the ones for our vehicles for $2 each at a used book store!

  2. Also if you don't have your own coder, most of the time the parts stores have one that they will hook to your car for you.


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