Tips For Straight Troubleshooting:

The most frustrating and time consuming mistakes that you will ever make will be the assumption that a brand new part is functioning properly.

 This goes to all things.  A very stupid and hideously aggressive boss I once had said that he hated the word ‘assume’.  But despite his personal shortcomings and bad breath, he had a point.  Whenever an intelligent man attempts to tackle a problem, he typically makes several assumptions right away.  Using his deductive reasoning, he eliminates one or more explanations for the problem almost immediately.  Usually these assumptions are based on good and rational thinking:


It can’t be the starter, I just replaced the starter last year.


It can’t be the battery, the car still starts fine.


That missing must be a fuel problem, the timing is bang on.


It pulls to the right when I step on the brakes, it’s got to be a brake problem.


These are some of the thoughts that will end up costing a man a lot of time.  It is also probably worthwhile to mention that there is a great deal of patience required to train yourself to think meticulously.  Instead of checking each component thoroughly and eliminating it as the cause of the problem, men are tempted to jump ahead and engage the most obvious solution first.

 Don’t get me wrong, 90% of the time, the first and most obvious solution is the correct one, but the other 10% of the time, you will spend hours replacing part after part trying to figure out what is wrong and finally realize that the real problem was what you had least suspected.

 I will go one step further.  This is the reason that so many people think that automotive mechanics are unscrupulous.  When their vehicle is malfunctioning, the average person will beg a mechanic to fix it as fast as possible, but when he hands them the bill they always stomp and holler that he/she has overcharged them and that such a simple repair should not cost nearly so much.

 But what is a mechanic to do?  He understands the workings of a vehicle.  He applies his knowledge as best he can.  But when there are multiple reasons for a malfunction, he has to work through each one, step by step, to find the correct answer.  And in the end, when he tells you that there was a loose wire that was causing your windshield wipers not to work, all people see is the simple and easy final fix.  They don’t see the hours it took for the mechanic to trace all the wires and figure out which one was causing the problem.

 So the lesson here is fairly simple:

 Check the obvious solution first, but try to avoid making assumptions that any factor is not contributing to a problem.  Check each component or system carefully and methodically.  The added time that you will spend eliminating factors one by one will pay off eventually when you encounter a malfunction that’s solution was something you never would have expected.  Here is a list of strategies that will help you troubleshoot more efficiently and effectively.


  1. A tech tip to apply to all things mechanical and otherwise:  If something malfunctions, open it up and take a look.  It sound ridiculous I know, but consider this scenario.  All of a sudden the furnace in you garage starts making a hideous noise and smoke billows out of it.  You assume that the motor has seized up.  However, before you call somebody to have your furnace replaced, open it up and look inside.  You might find that something got jammed in the fan blades and that your furnace only needs a new belt which costs $5.  The point is that more often than not, there is a simply solution or a cheap part that can get you back up and running.  As a landlord, I have saved myself thousands of dollars in repair bills by performing simple fixes on stoves, washing machines, furnaces, and all things automotive related.
  2. Above all, NEVER ASSUME A BRAND NEW PART IS FUNCTIONING CORRECTLY.  If you replace a part and the problem persists, try to verify that the replaced part is functioning correctly.  Let me tell you, this happens more frequently than you think.  I can think of several culprits right away:  batteries, alternators, external voltage regulators….   Some of these electrical components are rebuilt.  And not to say that rebuilt components aren’t usually very reliable, but there is the odd occasion where they malfunction immediately after they are installed.  Also, there may be other malfunctions that destroy new parts.  Ie.  A malfunctioning voltage regulator burns up a brand new battery.  So, if a problem persists after installing a new part, verify that the new part is good if you can.
  3. Work methodically, and eliminate causes of a problem by proving that they are not at fault.  As well, never discount the most ridiculous solution.  This is a combination of both of the previous points, but it needs to be reiterated.  You have a burnt out bulb, but the bulb looks good.  Check the bulb.  Use some test wires or an ohmmeter to verify that the bulb is good.  Sometimes bulbs malfunction, but they look perfect.  And wouldn’t you rather spend 2 minutes making sure that the bulb is not the problem than several hours tracing wires looking for a short only to find that the bulb was the problem all along?  Once you know that the bulb is good, test for power at the socket.  Then move along the circuit eliminating possible malfunctions as you go.
  4. Never puncture wires to test for voltage.  This is a pretty specific tip for troubleshooting electrical problems, but I mention it because I have seen it before.  You might be tempted to stick the point of your test light through the outer jacket of a wire to see if there is power.  However, now there is a hole in the wire and a spot for moisture to get in.  As well, you may have damaged some of the copper strands in the wire.  Now there is an increased resistance at that point in the wire, Increased resistance means more heat, and more heat increases the likelihood that the wire will burn up at that point.  And, being exposed to air and moisture through the hole in the sheath, the copper will rust (that’s right rust) at a greatly accelerated rate.  I have seen wires reduced to green dust at a point where they have been pierced.  So, the lesson is, do not pierce wires to test for power.  And if you see that a wire has been pierced, make sure that it has not corroded at that point and seal the hole with anything that is appropriate for the location.  (liquid electrical tape is perfect for these instances.

You are a man, the most highly evolved species on earth, we have walked on the moon and split the atom.   There is no excuse for being outsmarted by a machine.