Car Care

Fault code frustrations


Many drivers have experienced the immediate feeling of dread when you notice an illuminated warning light displayed on the dash, followed by your vehicle cutting out. If you take it to the technician straight away and end up having to raid your savings to pay for the repairs, it can be frustrating when later down the line that same warning light suddenly pops back on again.

We often get calls like this from our AA Members and in this situation there are usually two explanations behind why the problem with their car has reoccurred.

Incorrect diagnosis

When an engine check light is illuminated, a fault code is stored in the system’s memory, which can be retrieved and cleared by a technician. There are heaps of sensors throughout a vehicle which monitor parts to ensure everything is running correctly. When something is not quite right, the fault code will point to a particular sensor, which then illuminates a light on the dash, warning the driver about an issue. However, sometimes sensors will pick up incorrect readings. In some cars, instead of turning the warning light back off again, the light will remain illuminated even if there’s no longer an issue. Turning the warning light back off can only be done by a technician clearing the system’s memory.

After the system has been cleared, a vehicle road test should be carried out, while keeping a close eye on the dash to see if the warning light pops back on again. If the light does come back on, further investigation should be carried out to help determine the problem. The poor examination of vehicles or failure to examine at all, leads to incorrect diagnosis, causing drivers to pay for pointless work on their car.

Some technicians make the mistake of assuming that a sensor needs replacing, when there’s actually a faulty part because they’ve failed to properly investigate what the issue might be. Depending on the model of car and availability of parts, replacing a vehicle sensor can take weeks and can cost hundreds of dollars. So, it’s easy to understand why vehicle owners get frustrated when later down the line they discover that replacing the sensor didn’t actually fix the original issue. Not only have they spent unnecessary money, they’re now having to fork out more cash on additional repairs.

Overlooking the possibility of a new fault

A single warning light on a car’s dashboard can be responsible for illuminating any of 25-50 problem scenarios. So, when drivers have just paid for a repair and a few weeks later the same warning light comes back on, they automatically assume that the same issue is happening again. In reality though, the chances of problem reoccurring are slim. For example, the ABS braking system usually has four sensors – one for each wheel. However there’s only one warning light that will illuminate when there’s an issue with any of the four wheels. While you may have just paid for the front right-hand sensor to be replaced, weeks later the warning light could come on again, but due to an issue with the front left-hand sensor. So, before you give your technician a call to complain, bear in mind that the warning light could be on again to alert you about a new fault with your vehicle.

If you ever find yourself in the situation where you’ve paid for unnecessary repairs due an incorrect diagnosis and are having to pay more money to fix the original issue, you may have cover under the Consumers Guarantees Act.

Under New Zealand law, any business that provides a consumer service has a certain criteria that it has to meet. If you’ve received an unsatisfactory service from a company, it’s worth taking a look at the Consumer Protection website.

If you have no luck with the Consumers Guarantee Act and the problem continues, you may need to contact the Disputes Tribunal in order to get the issue resolved once and for all. More information on this can be found on their website.

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