This week I had a call from a customer that wanted me to “get rid of the airlock in his coolant system, and replace the bad battery”.

I did neither.

The forklift was a small Cat 6000 diesel, and had suddenly started overheating. They “saved money” by “diagnosing” it themselves and replacing their thermostat. (Like stories of misguided”savings”? Read this and this) Coincidentally, their battery ” went bad” at the same time.

I decided to ignore the diagnosis and checked the basics. A broken belt turned out to be the cause. Alternators and water pumps perform poorly when not connected to the engine!

broken beltIt was a good reminder: Stick to the basics!

As much as we might laugh at the previous example, if I am honest, I would have to admit I have made similar mistakes before.

I recall a customer with a Crown WAV that wouldn’t power up. Previous issues with a loose connection at the controller had caused the same symptom. While driving to the customer’s site, I thought about that connection and arrived at site with tunnel vision. I immediately started messing with the “loose harness”, only to be stumped. Until I stepped back and said, ” start with the basics”. Turns out that the Emergency Power Off button had been pushed. Boy, did I ever feel dumb. So did the customer.

Now, you can go ahead and laugh, but you’ve got ahead of yourself before too! I’ve learned that the difference between the Men and the Boys (No offense Ladies!) is the willingness to admit and learn from our mistakes. The lesson? Start with the basics.

When I was a young apprentice, I was given invaluable advice from a master technician who worked on everything from Pike’s Peak race cars to Honda generators:

It’s all basic. Think of everything in basic systems. Engine issues? Check the basics: fuel supply and pressure, timing( ignition and mechanical), compression, spark.
When you know what’s going on with the basics you can move on to the next system.

This concept can be adapted to almost any type of mechanical repairs. I have seen people freezing in their homes, wrapped in blankets, waiting for the furnace repairman, and it was just the switch turned off accidentally by a visitor. Or transmission repairs started when the only problem was low fluid.
Sounds obvious, but it still trips up smart people on a regular basis.

How can we avoid the trap? Deliberately start with the basics every time. Approach the problem with the basic questions:
1. What are the symptoms?
2. What was happening when it ooccurred ( idling/ backing up/ etc)
3. What systems might be involved?
And my favorite:
4. How is the maintenance? I’d love to have a dollar for every time someone has chased sensors, fuel pumps, and injector pulses when the only issue was dire need for a tuneup.

If maintenance is out of spec, I tell my customers that we need to repair the obvious needs before we have a solid foundation for advanced diagnostics.

So stick to the basics…and work up from there!

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

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