Car Care: Aaargh! The light’s come on
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Many drivers have experienced the feeling of dread when they notice an illuminated warning light on the dash, followed by their vehicle cutting out. If they take it to the technician straight away and end up raiding their savings to pay for the repairs, it can be frustrating when, later, that same warning light suddenly pops back on again.
We often get calls like this from AA members and there are usually two explanations.
When an engine check light is illuminated, a fault code is stored in the system’s memory, which can be retrieved and cleared by a technician. There are heaps of sensors throughout a vehicle that monitor parts to ensure everything is running correctly. When something is not quite right, the fault code will point to a particular sensor, which then illuminates a light on the dash, warning the driver about an issue.
However, sometimes sensors will pick up incorrect readings. In some cars, instead of turning the warning light back off again, the light will remain illuminated even if there’s no longer an issue. Turning the warning light back off can be done only by a technician clearing the system’s memory.
A vehicle road test should then be carried out, while checking to see whether the warning light comes on again. If so, further investigation should be carried out to help determine the problem. Poor examination of vehicles or failure to examine at all, leads to incorrect diagnosis, causing drivers to pay for pointless work on their car.
Some technicians make the mistake of assuming a sensor needs replacing, when there’s actually a faulty part because they’ve failed to properly investigate what the issue may be. Depending on the car model and parts availability, replacing a vehicle sensor can take weeks and can cost hundreds of dollars.
So, it’s easy to understand why vehicle owners become frustrated when later they discover that replacing the sensor didn’t fix the original issue. Not only have they spent unnecessary money, they’re now having to pay for additional repairs.
Overlooking chance of a fault
A single warning light on a car’s dashboard can be responsible for illuminating any of 25 to 50 problem scenarios. So, when drivers have just paid for a repair and a few weeks later the same warning light comes back on, they assume that the same issue is happening. In reality though, the chances of the problem recurring are slim.
For example, the ABS braking system usually has four sensors — one for each wheel — but there’s only one warning light that will illuminate when there’s an issue with any of the wheels. You may have just paid for the front right-hand sensor to be replaced, but weeks later the warning light could come on again because of an issue with the front left-hand sensor.
Before you ring your technician to complain, bear in mind that the warning light could be on again to alert you about a new fault.
If you do feel you’ve paid for unnecessary repairs due an incorrect diagnosis, and are having to pay more money to fix the original issue, you may have cover under the Consumers Guarantees Act.
Legally, any business providing a consumer service has criteria it has to meet. If you’ve received an unsatisfactory service from a company, have a look at the Consumer Protection website: consumerprotection.govt.nz.
If you have no luck with the Consumers Guarantee Act and the problem continues, you may need to contact the Disputes Tribunal to resolve the issue (disputestribunal.govt.nz).