When the customer doesn't tell you everything

March 1, 2019
Check, check and recheck and still no underlying cause could be found — until the customer finally confessed his errors.

The scene opens with the camera fading in to reveal some of the characters. There's a young unnamed couple, it's a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine. They are frolicking without a care in the world and appear to be dancing in an open field of flowers with total abandon. There’s a picnic basket, a bottle of wine and two glasses, some homemade snacks and two pairs of shoes on the edge of an unfolded sheet. By the looks of their clothing it must be taking place somewhere around the mid-1960s. The camera fades to dim as the couple runs towards a standing of trees hand-in-hand.

The scene continues on a street which looks like any typical residential neighborhood for the time period, where the newest car seen is a 1968 Ford LTD — and it is being jump-started. The camera pans to one of the other vehicles alongside the road with its hood open. Before the camera can view what's happening in front of that car there is a loud bang! Sparks fly and smoke billows as two young lads jump back screaming. One partially disrobes, taking his T-shirt off to try swat at the flames now erupting from an unseen location. He then uses it to insulate his hand as he grabs one of the jumper cables.

It's clearly apparent that a proper procedure was not followed! The camera fades to dim.

Fast forward. The same unnamed couple, slightly older now, is arguing. A child cries in the background. It’s clearly evident there's trouble in paradise! Past-due bills are scattered on the dining room table. Old newspapers are laying on the living room couch and chair.  One of the window blinds is cockeyed and the home appears in total general disarray.  The camera fades to dim.

In the next scene appears a student at a desk testing intently. He slams his book shut, hands the teacher his paper and leaves the room. The student is one of the two young men who were attempting to jumpstart that LTD many years ago.  In the next scene he is shirtless on his couch with an infant on his knee that is sucking a baby’s bottle while at the same time, a technical service manual that he's reading rests in his lap. Beside him, a half-eaten dinner sits on a plate. He decides it's time to put the baby to sleep, go take a shower and call it a day. His dinner never gets finished. The camera fades to dim.

When the camera fades back in it shows us a current environment. The familiar girl, aged now, crying on the phone. She is hysterically explaining she doesn't “KNOW what happened” to whomever it was that was listening on the other end. The camera pans out to show knocked over furniture, a lamp lying on its side yet still brightly lit and a smoky kitchen stove with a pot on it while unintelligible discussion takes place in the background. There are someone's legs, attached to feet with shiny, new-looking shoes on them, visible beside the kitchen doorway but the body is lying still on the floor. Sirens wail in the background. The woman cries uncontrollably as the sounds of police vehicles gets louder. The camera fades to dim.

In the next scene appears a now well-trained mechanic who is sitting in a 2003 Ford Excursion just across the street from an unkempt yard where two police cars arrive from different directions. He looks up curiously as the police officers rush to the front door of the house, already slightly ajar. His curiosity lasts only so long and he returns his focus to the IDS software displayed on his laptop on the seat next to him. He has a job to do, he mutters to himself, thinking he doesn’t have time to satisfy his curiosity about what may be happening across the street. Thankful, he feels, that he didn’t get involved when he next looks up to see yellow “Crime Scene” police tape being attached to trees surrounding the property he can see through the windshield.

Unfortunately, he gets dragged into the criminal investigation when an observant police officer notices Jaime and comes over to chat. The officer queries the mechanic then stops abruptly after one of Jaime’s answers. It wasn’t something that quite “fit” into the crime scene — and causes the officer to say “well, we didn’t know THAT before now.”  Suddenly, the sound of a gunshot interrupts the impromptu interrogation…

When customers are less than truthful

Have you ever been performing diagnostic routines that presented results inconsistent with the customer’s explanations of the events which led up to the failure? Did it make you think you were dropped into some sort of a TV Crime Drama show — the way nothing you were finding wrong with the vehicle was making any sense based on what you were initially told? Sometimes, when further queried, the customer suddenly remembers other, usually vitally important, facts and anecdotal parts of the story which were mysteriously omitted when the diagnosis first began. It can be a frustrating experience, one that’s shared by many of our readers every day!

2003 Ford Excursion

This Excursion, with 186,823 miles and a direct injection — Turbo 6.0L, was just that type of a “job.” Knowing the shop owner, as I have had dealings with him before, I know his communications sometimes require deciphering in order to understand them. This text was no exception. The shop owner’s initial complaint was stated as: “The vehicle was towed here after the batteries went dead overnight, but with anti-theft issues can you remove them." I’m already feeling like I’m in a who-dunnit.

Ford IDS software doesn’t “know” whether a vehicle is fitted with a particular module.
Where you get Ford’s As-Built Data to program a module as it was originally.

Upon arriving at the shop, I found both of the batteries (this is a diesel) were dead. Zero volts; “Oh, just wonderful” I thought. If we are to be able to accurately diagnose ANY type of electrical problem, we MUST have fully charged batteries, ones which pass a load and a conductance test. After I explained this to the shop-owner we agreed he would charge the two batteries in the vehicle and I would return at the end of my day. When I returned, I scanned the vehicle’s network, found a Powertrain Control Module (PCM) without a VIN and a Generic Electronic Module (GEM) not reporting. I asked them to order one and left because it was late in the day. I was going to do some research at home, now that I have some initial tests performed and an IDS Log File with lots of information to which I can refer. They called, the dealer argued about the truck needing a GEM, and claimed the vehicle wasn’t equipped with it. I did some research; IDS said it was "OPTIONAL" as did the Ford Professional Technician’s Society (PTS) website. OK, no problem, I scheduled time to go back the next day.

Aftermarket “Tuners” may write a fictitious VIN when they reprogram a module.
To confirm a PCM is communicating on a network, observe a parameter that’s shared by another module (in this case, the Odometer is stored in the IPC).

Upon arriving the next morning, you guessed it, the batteries were dead again! The shop personnel had neglected to disconnect them prior to leaving for the night before. I had them install some known-good units so that I could perform testing. I focused first on the PCM. I found and removed an “Aftermarket Flash” (using owner's equipment) then reinstalled the original flash using Ford’s As-Built Data. The IDS then found a new update for the PCM, FICM & TCM, so I performed the update to ensure all three were up to date. I was required to perform Passive Anti-Theft System (PATS) functions after programming the modules. I was allowed Parameter Reset, but it would not allow further access to perform Key Erase, etc. It seemed to be locked in some way. It would not allow the starter to crank the engine and codes were set in various modules, which helped influence the PCM’s decision to allow the engine to start. Prior to completing testing for the day, we put the shop owner’s PCM in place of this one and found the engine would crank. He ordered a PCM.

Although not a place frequently thought of for such things, I found on this page the Vehicle Security Module had absolutely NOTHING to do with Anti-Theft system.
The “VIN Write” function can be skipped during the programming process.

A little homework

I went home and researched some more that night. I found some interesting information about the systems used on this vehicle, which were unlike most others I’d worked on in the past. For instance, thinking because I had Vehicle Security Module (VSM) codes, that those Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) may be influencing the PCM. A replacement VSM was ordered before I found data indicating it is NOT responsible for anti-theft (so I didn't open or install it). How silly of me to assume a Vehicle Security Module might control Anti-Theft functions! Am I right? In this case, the VSM is in charge of exterior lighting, some of the restraint information and other sections of the vehicle that keep its occupants (safe and) secure.

Not the most helpful of information but sometimes these PIDs may assist with a “No-Start” complaint.

I also learned that a first version of Ford’s Vehicle Communication Module (VCM) must be used to access the PATS functions on this vehicle. More diagnostics led me to think the PATS module is causing the no-start, but since it doesn't prevent the starter operation, and a replacement PCM allowed it, I knew the PATS module was simply doing its job. This logic was perplexing.

This routine is a very simple, two-step diagnosis. Well, it’s supposed to be!

A very strange piece of evidence, a recurring DTC P1260 (Engine disabled by PATS), was setting intermittently the whole time while I was diagnosing the vehicle. If it wasn’t present (for instance, when I finished programming the PCM) then the starter would operate. As soon as the key was released, the DTC would set and the starter would not be commanded to operate. In addition, I found the Radio & Windows operated with Key OFF! I traced to this phenomena to a bad Instrument Panel Cluster (IPC), which was improperly causing the Accessory Delay Relay to stay activated. I did not check to see if all of the vehicle amperage draws were gone with the IPC disconnected (and regret now not doing so). Isn’t this “PLOT” thickening?  See how the evidence doesn’t really coincide with what the original complaints were?

After PCM programming, PATS functions must be performed before the engine will start.

Once the IPC was installed, a replacement key was obtained for one of the two provided (which was held together with Scotch tape) and programmed, a Ford remanufactured PCM was installed and programmed (an aftermarket unit failed to program to completion) and all the PATS functions had been completed then the starter would crank the engine without a DTC P1260 setting.

We need to look at a wiring diagram to see what is most likely at fault, as was the case when the Power Windows could still be operated when the key was out of the ignition.

However, the engine would not start. In addition, there were now only six “U” codes (Vehicle Communication Network DTCs) setting instead of ten or more found initially — which was contributing to my jumping to the conclusion the GEM was faulty since it would usually be the module in control of such things. There were 29 DTCs found throughout the vehicle’s 11 modules now reporting on the network.

Just the facts, please!

All these clues do not coincide with a “Batteries went dead” complaint. I queried the shop owner one more time, explaining why I was perplexed and asked if he could offer any more information that could help me resolve the seemingly unusually large number of problems indicated. That’s when he said he had spoken to the vehicle owner earlier that day to bring him up to date about what’s been done so far. In his conversation the owner admitted he tried to jump start the vehicle.

This vehicle owner shared a story from a long time ago about how while jump starting “an old Ford” improperly he made the car battery explode! He also shared that this time he thought he was being careful when he did it to his truck but made the same mistake, reversing the polarity of the jumper cables. He knew because of the sparks and heat that formed in the clamp he was still holding, just like they did “way back then!”

It appears the ignition key must have been left in the ON position when the attempted jump starting took place (due to the extensive damage). This last bit of information is what made all the puzzle pieces fall right into place. The feeling of being an unwilling participant in a crime drama soon left me. Thankfully.

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