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Under the Hood: Pesky lights could cost $1,000 to repair

Several weeks ago, three warning lights (brake, anti-lock brake system and traction control) started showing.


Q: I own a 2002 Buick LeSabre with just over 50,000 miles on it. Several weeks ago, three warning lights (brake, anti-lock brake system and traction control) started showing. After I drove a few miles, these lights would go off. This went on for several weeks, and then the lights started staying on at all times. After about a month of the lights not going off, I made an appointment with the dealer to have the problem checked. On the way to the dealer, the lights, of course, went out. They checked the system and said they could find no problem but recommended bringing it back if the lights came on again. A couple of weeks later, the lights came on again so I left the vehicle at the dealer to have it checked. They told me they found the worst case scenario and explained to me in esoteric terms that I did not understand what could be wrong with the ABS system, stating it would be about $1,000 to replace one item, and if that did not work, another $1,000 to replace the other item. As the brakes were recently replaced and seem to be working fine I feel the problem seems to be more of an electrical problem with the warning lights than the ABS system. Do you have any suggestions?

— James Kennon

A: It's odd there was not a stored diagnostic trouble code after such a short time period between the lamps being on and diagnosis during your first repair visit. It's also troubling the shop can't be more certain of their diagnosis. Is it a no-code situation? Did you receive a written explanation, listing DTCs and test results to substantiate their diagnosis? A thousand-dollar repair deserves a better explanation!

A failure within the integrated ABS/traction control module-pump assembly can illuminate the three lamps you mentioned. This isn't a pleasant thought but is more likely than a wiring fault directly illuminating the lamps. A faulty input or power/ground fault to the module/pump can also trigger a code and lamps and is equally as likely. I agree the module/pump is the worst case scenario, and the part at list price plus diagnosis and installation could hit the price mentioned. I'm at a loss as to what the second $1,000 possibility could be. Second opinion please!

Q: I've got a 2010 Ford Escape with built-in GPS. It's time to update the maps, so we invested $150 for the software. There are two DVDs called Software Application Update and two more for the Navigation Map Update. The instructions say install with the engine running — not just on, but not while driving. This means the car will be idling for possibly three hours total. This seems like an incredible waste of gasoline, energy, time and obvious EPA implications. I called the number they have to confirm this idiocy, but they insisted, and confirmed the car should not be driven during the update process. Isn't there a better way to go about this? Why can't the ignition just be in the on position? I'm reluctant to order further updates due to this waste.

— Jim C.

A: This does seem like an inconvenient length of time to let the engine idle, but if you were to do this key-on/engine-off, the battery would likely discharge and corrupt the process, along with other unpleasant effects. I'd be tempted to connect a battery charger and do it, but can understand why the software folks would not want to suggest it. It's best to play by the rules when performing a software upload. I believe you'll find this takes less time than was indicated.



Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-the-hood(at); he cannot make personal replies.


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