The potentially expensive problem with DIYers relying on code readers

The potentially expensive problem with DIYers relying on code readers

Another day, another failed timing chain. Oddly enough, a recently recalled 1.8-liter 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TSI usually doesn’t have timing chain issues. Not to say it’s unheard of, but it’s not the usual starting place when diagnosing a no-start condition on this model.

This was a first time customer and my initial thought was the owner is hard on the car. The car was a disaster inside and out. How people exist in such squalor is beyond me.

Looking under the hood didn’t change my mind, everything was covered in dirt, fluids were black and engine oil was alarmingly dark and tainted with fuel. A quick scan of the car’s computer showed a camshaft sensor error.

A week ago, a Honda CR-V arrived on the back of a tow truck with a similar camshaft sensor error code. This is where I see DIYers getting themselves into trouble. Both owners had code readers and kept resetting their computers hoping the problem would resolve itself. The Honda owner purchased a new camshaft sensor with the intent of changing it on his own. When the car failed to start they pulled it over for us to change the sensor. However, both cars did not need camshaft sensors, but they failed their timing chains, as Volkswagen was a catastrophic failure.

To help understand the timing chain process, think of a bicycle chain. The front gear set where the bicycle pedals are located could be thought of as the crankshaft of the engine and the rear wheel sprocket could be the camshaft sprocket of the engine in this example. When pedaling, mechanical power is transmitted through the chain from the front sprocket to the rear. If the chain stretches or the bike wears off its derailleur, the chain will drop more often. Likewise, if the engine’s timing chain stretches, it may fall out or skip a tooth.

Both cars have error codes for the camshaft position sensors. Both DIY owners sadly assumed this was telling them the sensor had expired. What was actually happening was that the computer was detecting an out of position camshaft. It was not in the correct position because it was retarded due to an extended chain.

Now is the time for their expensive lessons. If they hadn’t kept resetting their computers, they could have saved things before they went so wrong. The Volkswagen engine suffered internal damage due to chain failure and the CR-V is still in question. It may only need to replace the chain, but it may also need an expensive engine repair in addition to replacing the timing chain.

The Volkswagen owner abandoned his car because the engine repair cost was more than the car was worth. The CR-V owner decided to tow the car to the dealer and have it replaced. Both of them incurred huge financial loss.

All professional repair shops deal with vehicles towed in the warrior’s driveway that cost owners more to right their wrongs than anything they would save by doing it themselves. I don’t have a problem with people fixing their own cars, so go ahead and buy these $89 code readers, but know your limits. Sadly, many DIYers find their limitations the hard and costly way as it was for these two.


Answered to your car-related questions

hello lo,

I recently purchased a 2021 Hyundai Kona in Preferred trim with AWD. Mountain highways in British Columbia require snow tires (or at least mud and snow) from October 1 through spring. I’ve heard that jacking up and off can damage tires, should I buy snow tires on “beater” rims, and what should I look for in beater rims? Finally, since I live in an apartment with limited storage options, I look forward to using my dealer’s frame installation and storage service, which is about $95 per year. any guidance? – Dave K.

The tire is slightly tightened by the tire fitting equipment. When used correctly, contemporary tire service equipment is very effective in minimizing any negative impact on tire life. The key to my statement is when used correctly. When an inexperienced hand operates a tire equipment it rarely happens, but sometimes it goes wrong and tire damage can occur. I always recommend having winter tires installed on a separate set of winter wheels for this reason and also the cost. Twice yearly installation and balancing will usually result in the price of specified winter wheels being exceeded only in a few seasons.

Tire storage is an unwanted extra cost for most people, but it’s common for those like you who live in a condominium. There isn’t much guidance I can give you on this. Technically, I think you’re renting space in a warehouse to store your personal items. Unfortunately, there is a cost associated with this, all you can do is shop around for the best deal.


hello lo,

In response to a reader’s question about the adaptive suspension on the Acura MDX, you mentioned that it is a big problem especially in humid climates. Given that different manufacturers often source their parts from retail suppliers, this is also an issue with other makes such as GMC, Cadillac, Ford, Jeep, and Chrysler. Here on the West Coast where I live, this will be a factor to consider when buying a car.

Thank you, Randy

Once upon a time, frugal drivers would avoid purchasing vehicles with power windows and power door locks to avoid additional repair costs. Today, getting a car with folding windows is next to impossible. Active suspension systems combined with air suspension systems add an extra level of sophistication to any vehicle. Suspension components in every vehicle are highly exposed to moisture. So, if you’re concerned about the extra costs, especially in a wetter part of the country, I’d suggest avoiding vehicles with both active and air suspension because your wallet will feel every bump in the road.

Lou Trottier is the owner and operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Do you have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.comand put “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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