Sunday, August 02, 2009


A few Sundays ago I was driving home one evening when the Check Engine light on my car illuminated. I had no idea whether this was something safe to ignore or postpone, or something that needed to be repaired pronto, before it damaged the engine further. Despite the light, the car drove perfectly fine, and got perfectly fine gas mileage.

The next day, Monday, I needed to be in my office 30 miles away. Instead of waiting, and bringing my car to my usual mechanic, I took the car to the service station across the street from my office. <<<---- THE BAD GUYS - Sparta Shell, Woodport Rd, Sparta, NJ.

Around 1:30p or 2:00p I called the service station, and was told they'd cleaned my Mass Airflow Sensor, driven the car and the light stayed off, so the problem was fixed, and the cost would be $131 + tax. I had them do an oil change for another $30 or so, and picked the car up at around 5:30p.

This is a good time to mention that a couple of weeks before this, I needed a brake job. All 4 rotors were all used up, and I had the two rear rotors replaced. My mechanic told me then that I could probably get another month or so out of the fronts. Also, the afternoon of the Check Engine light repair, the driver-door window motor on Jessica's van failed, and we needed to have that replaced as well. I tried to do the job myself, but once I had the door panel removed, I couldn't figure out how to properly remove and replace the window mechanism, so I had to admit defeat and let my mechanic handle that job.

SO, to do a quick tally, so far in our story I've had my rear rotors and brakes replaced, replaced the window motor in Jessica's car, and now had the Mass Airflow Sensor in my car cleaned, all in a span of a couple of weeks (the last two within a few days of each other).

On my way home after picking up my car, the Check Engine light illuminated again. I phoned the Shell station, and they said that the problem must be the Oxygen sensor then. I could bring the car back, and they could replace the Oxygen sensor, but the cost of the replacement sensor was pretty high (like, around $200), and there was a Mazda Service Bulletin stating that the sensor may break when removed. If that happened, I'd need to pay and additional $90 labor for them to drill it out. I declined their polite offer to shaft me further, and decided it was time to take control of the situation.

For many years I'd wanted a code reader, a device that would let me identify myself the codes thrown by the car's computer. This was the final straw. I bought an inexpensive code reader from Auto Zone, and pulled the codes stored in the car's computer. For anybody interested, the codes were P0171, P0174, and P0138. (2004 Mazda 6, 3.0L, 5-Speed)

The 171 and 174 indicated a Too Lean condition, and the 138 was related to an Oxygen sensor.

Armed with this info, I posted a couple of messages to a Mazda 6 forum. I included as much detail as I had, and waited for helpful suggestions from the more knowledgeable regulars. And waited, and waited. I was almost completely ignored on the forums. I did learn that an air leak in the various hoses under the hood could throw the codes I was seeing, so last week I spent some time under the hood, trying to find any holes in the various tubes and hoses. I found nothing.

So Friday evening I visited AutoZone again, this time intending to bite the bullet and buy replacement Oxygen sensors. I spoke with a counter rep at the store, and learned that there are several different O2 sensors on my car, they are expensive, and I'd only be able to get to one of them myself (the others are located in places I can't get to). Lastly, I wasn't even sure which one(s) I needed to replace.

This morning I gave up, and drove over to my regular mechanic. <<<---- THE GOOD GUYS - Clairidge Sunoco - 195 Pompton Ave Verona, NJ 07044-3017 - (973) 239-7950. I explained the full background of the situation to Tim. He looked at the codes I'd pulled, and checked them online with some sites he belongs to. He then looked under my hood.

In no more than 5 minutes, he found a hose near the top of the engine, near the base of the windshield, with a large split down the length of it, in the back. The split was impossible to see, but easy to feel. The hose was only about 3 or 4 inches long, and easy to get to. I thanked Tim and drove home.

Later this afternoon I returned once more to AutoZone, where I was given a replacement piece of hose for free. After I replaced the hose in their parking lot, the folks at AutoZone even let me use the washbasin and Orange cleaner in their back room to wash up before getting back in my car.

The car is finally fixed. Not seeing the Check Engine light lit up is a beautiful thing.

Other happenings today in our home -

* I took down a flourescent light fixture in our kitchen, took it Home Depot and bought a replacement ballast for the fixture, and then replaced the ballast and reinstalled the light fixture, fixing the kitchen light.

* I mowed the yard, providing much needed relief to my neighbors, I'm sure.

* I whipped up an excellent batch of homemade red beans (Thanks Noah!).

* Jess, Nate, Maren and I went to Jessica's parents' apartment, and played with their Wii. We recently gave Jessica's Dad Wii Sports Resort for his birthday. This afternoon we played Sports Resort a lot, and had a lot of fun. Maren bowled, and all by herself scored many spares and strikes. She's probably much better than me. (I played Frisbee Golf when it was my turn.)

* Jess, Nate and Maren went swimming at my in-laws' apartment pool.

* Jess, Nate and Maren went to the West Orange Family Fun Night at the town pool.

All in all, it's been a busy day. And my CAR IS FIXED! Yay.

Next weekend we are driving to Philly, and I'm very happy the car is solid again.

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