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updated: 12/11/2011 8:09 AM

Doug McAllister, Under the Hood: Trust matters when things do go as planned

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Occasionally I like to write about an oddball scenario that we come across in the shop and how it turned out.

Recently we had a Buick come in and the owner complained about a coolant leak and overheating. After filling the coolant level and putting the system under pressure, our technician noted two fairly significant coolant leaks. One of the leaks was coming from the water pump and the other from the intake manifold gasket.

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These are two fairly common problem areas and, at this point, it seemed like a fairly straightforward repair scenario, especially after confirming the vehicle did not overheat when it was full of coolant. With the work approved and the parts located, we set out to perform the recommended repairs.

The repairs went as expected and the car was back up and running in the allotted time. After testing the vehicle in the shop, it was taken for a lengthy test drive. With all systems go, the car was then delivered to the owner. Another successful repair, or so we thought.

One hour after delivering the car we got the bad news. The client was in Barrington with an overheating Buick. We directed him to our Barrington location and then got him in a rental car and on his way. When the tech got the car in the shop, he noted it was quite low on coolant (which didn't make any sense) but after filling it could find no leaks.

He let it run for a long time and then drove the car again with no problems. My suspicions were now up and I was suspecting a bad head gasket, but we needed to do some more testing. We drove the car back to Crystal Lake with no problems, rechecked all of our work and performed a block test, which should have caught a bad head gasket.

Everything tested OK and we made the decision to have one of our tech's drive the car home to give it a good long run. With the owner's permission the car was driven to Belvidere and back in the morning. On the way home that night the car did not miss a beat, and the temperature held steady the whole way. However, the drive back in the morning was a different story.

The temperature was erratic and the car was running on the hot side. When this information made it to me, I was convinced the car had a bad head gasket. Now we had to try and prove it. After thorough testing, we could not prove this car had a bad head gasket, but everything pointed to it. Needless to say we were in a difficult situation and this was not the easiest thing to explain to our client.

At this point we had done nothing wrong, but the client was less than pleased with the news we were bringing him. We made an agreement to move forward with the additional work to see what we could find.

After removing the cylinder heads, the gaskets were studied carefully and there was no visible leak area that we could find. I was a little nervous so we got some exchange cylinder heads instead of having his repaired just in case there was a crack somewhere inside. The engine was re assembled and thoroughly tested and test driven many times.

Ultimately we were convinced all was well and there were no more issues with this car. It was delivered and word back from the client is that all is well and the car is running great and keeping its cool! The moral of this story is that things are not always as they seem and sometimes we get some real challenges in the shop that take time and patience to work through between the tech and the client.

When situations like this arise, it is so important you work with a shop you know and trust. This was not the client's fault and it certainly wasn't ours. The client was gracious and gave us the time we needed to work through this problem.

The ultimate outcome was good for everyone; the client had his car back in good working order and even though we lost time and money on the job, we knew we had solved a hard problem and taken care of our client to the best of our ability.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to underthehood@dailyherald.com.

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