Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.
Mark, who has been with the business for
over 20 years, is an ASE Master Technician
and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE L1 certification,
and has an associates degree in business management.
(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP)
It all started with a simple complaint. A customer with a 1996 Regal was concerned about a fluctuating voltage gauge whenever the directionals were turned on. It was a Saturday and the technicians were off. Just Glenn and I were on duty getting caught up on overdue things in the shop. Although no appointments were booked for the day, I figured I would try to help the customer anyway. Sure enough, when the directionals were turned on the voltage gauge moved down about 1/4 of an inch as the directional flasher illuminated the lights. Seeing this on some older cars of the 80's I did not think it merited testing but the customer was worried it might be the onset of a greater problem. My first action was to rule out service bulletins for similar symptoms. In the absence of finding any, I decided to open the hood and have a look around. The alternator was fairly shiny and the customer reminded me that we had replaced it less than a year ago. At this point I decided to connect the Midtronics tester and test the overall health of the battery and charging system. As with most charging/starting system test equipment, you need to know the CCA (Cold Cranking Amp) rating of the battery being tested. First problem, I could not even see, let alone test, the battery. It is a problem that is getting more common lately. The battery on the Regal is under the windshield washer reservoir. After unbolting and removing the reservoir I was able to see the label on top of the battery. Second problem, the label identified the battery as a Sears DieHard. What's the CCA rating? Not posted on the top label, of course. The customer sensed my growing tension as I mumbled to myself while staring down at the battery. This is not the first Sears battery I have encountered without a CCA rating on the top decal. Often Sears puts the rating on a big decal on the side of the battery. Third problem, the side decal is not visible since this Buick has the special temperature insulation wrap around the battery. That's an interesting subject in itself. I have seen General Motors bulletins that warn of the importance of reinstalling that insulation wrap whenever a battery is replaced. It prevents a reduction in battery life caused by the high underhood temperatures of their car's design. Now I know why I am getting so many burns on my arms and hands lately. Anyway, I could not see the rating on the battery while mounted in the car so now it was guessing time. A walk over to the battery specification guide in the parts room gave me an approximate CCA rating for this car. After entering that number into the Midtronics tester I proceeded with the diagnostic tests. The test result was inconclusive. It said to "charge the battery and retest." Neither the customer nor I could figure a cause as to why the battery should be low. As a second measure I decided to connect the old VAT-40 Starter-Charging-Battery test station. Fourth problem, I could only perform the battery portion of the test. The lack of clearance around the battery on the Regal is such that I could not even get the inductive pick-up clamp on the battery cable wires to perform the starter and alternator tests. It was now near closing time and I was not going to spend an hour of labor just to get the battery out to perform a 2 minute test. That was it, it was time to kick it out. Although it's not the owner's fault, I am getting sick and tired of cars like this with such a cascade of problems. At first blush what should be a simple test is turned into a gradual nightmare just by the overall design of the car. It's as if they are now designing some of these cars to prevent repairs. I advised the customer that the limited testing I could perform may be pointing to a discharged or faulty battery. Since it was still probably under warranty by Sears, I advised him to return there. I felt relieved as I backed the car out of the bay and escorted the customer to his car. Like a football, I had kicked one out. Call it the result of a gradual build up of frustration of more than 20 years of automotive service or perhaps my simple resistance to the ridiculous and absurd. Whatever it was, it sure felt good.