1993 Plymouth Acclaim computer problems

Tiny
XAVIERM04
  • MEMBER
  • 1993 PLYMOUTH ACCLAIM
  • 4 CYL
  • 2WD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 100,000 MILES
I have the car listed above in running condition but upon taking it to the shop to see why the check engine light is on the mechanics couldnt get my car to started. After a while they bypassed something and got it started only to call back saying my computer is fried. So what do you think happened? Could my car still run if my computer was fried?
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Monday, January 4th, 2010 AT 2:06 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
"Fried" is not a technical term, and it's impossible to offer a proper suggestion without exact symptoms. If the engine is running, at least most of the computer is working.

When you say it wouldn't start, do you mean there was no sound at all when turning the ignition switch, there was a single loud clunk from the starter but it didn't spin the engine, or the engine cranked like normal but wouldn't run? Worn contacts in the starter solenoid are real common and will cause one loud clunk but the starter won't spin the engine. Those contacts can be bypassed with a jumper cable.

A defective starter relay could result in no sound at all. This is not very common. A broken cam on the end of the ignition switch cylinder will prevent the switch from turning far enough to get to the "Crank" position. Either of these can be bypassed.

If the engine cranks normally but won't run, the pickup assembly in the distributor is a very common suspect. It will cause no spark AND the fuel pump won't run. You must check for both; you can't just troubleshoot one system.

When the "Check Engine" light comes on, the computer has detected a problem with a sensor or its wiring, or it has noticed a problem that will affect tail pipe emissions. A diagnostic fault code will be memorized in the computer. No special equipment is needed to read the codes. In fact, it can be done on Chrysler vehicles without even opening the hood.

Chrysler engine computers from this era gave very little trouble. It's not easy to intentionally cause damage either. The first thing to do is to find out what the code(s) were. They would have been erased if the battery cable was disconnected. Also please provide a complete description of "wouldn't start".

Caradiodoc
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Thursday, January 7th, 2010 AT 4:23 AM
Tiny
XAVIERM04
  • MEMBER
Well I guess they couldn't get the car to turn over. It cranked but thats it. The mechanics told me they got a few codes but couldn't further diagnose it without new computer. And only then will I know whats wrong. But they did ensure me that once I purchased a new computer the check engine light should be off. Does that make sense? So anyways how much should a computer and labor cost?
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Friday, January 8th, 2010 AT 1:04 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
"Crank" and "turn over" are exactly the same thing, so we still don't know if the starter is working. The engine computer will not prevent the starter from working; that is a separate issue.

Diagnostic fault codes are stored in the computer. Disconnecting the battery or replacing the computer will erase those codes and that valuable information. Once the new computer is installed, you will have to hope whatever original problem caused the Check Engine light to come on will do so again so you can find the original problem.

Still don't know what was bypassed and what the symptom was. It sounds like there are multiple problems, and some information is getting lost in translation. As I mentioned in my first reply, the pickup assembly in the distributor has been a real common problem that will cause a no-start condition but the engine will crank normally. The pickup coil is not part of the engine computer and is not very expensive. I rarely second-guess mechanics, especially when they aren't here to defend their diagnosis, but when you apparently drove the car to their shop and now it doesn't run, it might be time to seek a second opinion from someone who can see and hear the car. It is indeed possible to have a defective computer. It's real common on newer cars, but it is so uncommon on your car. That's partly why I'm skeptical of the diagnosis. Plus the fact it was running when you took it there. Either your very reliable computer failed while they were working on your car, or they made a mis-diagnosis.

Cost on a new computer is impossible to say. You will not find a new one anywhere and if you did, expect to pay over $600.00. Remanufactured / rebuilt computers typically run $200.00 to $400.00, but because these are so trouble free, I would be comfortable finding a used one from a salvage yard. You can't do that either with new cars since they have to be programmed to the individual car by the dealer. Just another silly way to bleed money from customers.

The hourly labor rate will also affect your total bill. A reputable shop will not charge for mid-diagnosed parts but will likely charge for the time to come up with a correct diagnosis. This is no different than a doctor making a mis-diagnosis the first time. Often the mechanic can believe in good faith he has found the problem, but won't be proven right or wrong until the new part is installed. In the case of the computer and the pickup coil, there is no easy way to test either part. You must simply install the replacement and see if it solved the problem.

The lowest hourly labor rate isn't always the cheapest in the long run. Shops with more experienced mechanics will charge you more per hour but find the problem in less time. Shops with relatively inexperienced people might charge less per hour but will take longer to come up with a proper diagnosis. This is why you will often end up with a lower final bill from the dealership where the people are highly trained on only your brand of car.

Still, keep in mind it sounds like you're describing two or more different problems. A Check Engine light with a running engine, an engine that won't run, and possibly an engine that won't crank. Be sure anyone you go to for a second opinion has all the correct information, otherwise it will be your fault if they overlook an intermittent problem that doesn't act up while they're diagnosing it.

It's also a good idea to stick with one reputable shop when you find them. The intentionally dishonest shops are few but they give the entire industry a bad name. Every time you go to a second, third, or fourth shop for the same problem, new hands were involved with testing, moving, unplugging, adjusting, twisting, poking, or cleaning something. This introduces a whole bunch of new variables that can add additional problems. One mechanic will never know for sure if a symptom or observation is related to the original problem he's trying to diagnose or if it is something that was done at a previous shop in their attempt to fix something.

Caradiodoc
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Friday, January 8th, 2010 AT 4:05 PM

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