It Pays to Realize When You are Over Your Head

by Chris on November 9, 2011

I grew up with a father and grandfather who could do just about anything mechanically that they could set their mind to. So naturally, I just assumed growing up that I could just about anything too. Over the years though, I’ve realized that you have to know your limits. On somethings it’s obvious. I realize that septic systems are over my head and best left to professionals. But I still cling to some notions that from time to time, put me to the test.

diagnostic code reader It Pays to Realize When You are Over Your Head

Diagnostic Code Reader

The other day we had a check engine light come on in our 2006 Ford Expedition (our main family vehicle for hauling the kids around). We bought it used (pretty good deal) but it had over 97K on it so we wanted to check it out. I had to go to the big city to do some shopping and decided to try and find a code reader at a reasonable price so I could look up the code myself, but I didn’t find one that wasn’t overly expensive. So we took it to the Ford dealership and had them check out the error code. They said it was a misfire and that the plugs needed to be changed. They quoted us a price of $300 dollars to change the plugs. I confidently said that I could do that myself and we took it home. Of course the diagnostic cost us $70 dollars. In the future, I’m going to get a code reader and save myself that cost hopefully. They warned me in the service department that it took a special type of plug and that the current plugs were probably going to be tough to get out. I figured they were trying to scare me into having the work done at their shop. Then to add to it,they warned me that this particular type of plug was easy to break. I told them that I would take it slow and be careful.

I went by the local auto parts store and bought a new set of plugs (at a savings of $6 a plug over what the dealership quoted). That afternoon, I popped the hood and checked out the position of the plugs. The engine block is set back in that model of Expeditions and I immediately was a little concerned about getting to the two rear plugs, but I soldiered on. I started to work on the first plug, keeping in mind the warning of how prone these types of plugs could break. This model has a 5.4L 3-valve Triton V-8 engine which use a 9/18 size plug. As I began to try and break it free, I was surprised that I was getting no movement. I tried more pressure. At this point, I was really pushing on the ratchet, but was getting no where. All I could think about was that if I really stressed the plug anymore that I was going to snap the damn plug off. Then I would be forced to have it towed to the shop. I gave up, put the wire back on and went in and admitted defeat to my wife. We agreed to check with some local independent garages the next day and see if they would install our plugs, hopefully cheaper than the Ford dealership.

The Expedition ran fine that evening but on the way to dropping off my oldest son to school in town, the engine went into Engine Failsafe Mode when we made a turn. It just happened to be in front of one of the garages that I had planned to check with so I limped into their parking lot and handed the keys off to the attendant. I then walked my son the remaining block. When I got back the owner of the garage said that he didn’t want to do the work either. He said the 5.4L 3-valve Triton V-8 was notorious for being hard to get the plugs out of and that he was afraid that he would break the plugs himself. I thanked him for his honesty and headed to the Ford house. The engine was no longer in Failsafe Mode which made me think that I must not have gotten the one wire I had removed fully connected to the plug. The service manager at the dealership was not surprised to see me. He figured that I would be back. I had brought my own plugs (although he still tried to get me to use the dealer plugs). So with buying my own plugs, the labor was only $170 this time. Overall we saved about $48 dollars by buying our own plugs at the auto parts store instead of the dealership. But I figure I ended up saving much more than that since, I didn’t break any plugs and have to have the broken plug extracted and possibly much worse.

I’m not sure how much trouble they had or if they were just busy that day, but it took them all day before they called us to tell us it was ready to be picked up. I’d like to think that they had a hard time too. There just aren’t as many repairs on modern vehicles that I feel comfortable doing, either because of mechanical complexity or the time involved. It’s sad that it’s become that way, but I now realize that you have to be able to admit you are over your head, no matter how self sufficient you want to be.

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