Teenage Car Keeps Throwing up Inappropriate Error Codes

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A black 2009 Chevrolet Malibu is shown from the front surrounded by various trouble codes, before going to a Albany used car dealership.

Albany, NY – Technicians at one local Albany used car dealership are stumped as a rare electronic issue continues to plague a recently sold vehicle. Greg Russo bought his used 2009 Chevy Malibu from Larsson’s Used Cars early last year and, by all reports, had been satisfied with the midsize sedan until recently. The trouble started when the Malibu’s check engine light came on while Russo was commuting to work––never a good sign for a vehicle edging into its second decade on the road.

Russo stopped by Larsson’s, where an employee hooked up the Malibu to one of its Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) readers. At first, the technician looked puzzled, but confusion turned to laughter when he showed Russo that the code displayed on the reader simply read “B0085”.

The alphanumeric code, familiar to any bored middle schooler with a calculator, couldn’t be found in the dealership’s DTC code directory. It was especially confusing since most error codes begin with “P0” not “B0”, but everything started to make sense once Russo informed the employee of the vehicle’s age.

“We don’t like to publicize it, but this often happens when vehicles hit the 13- to 15-year mark,” says Kurt Jacoby, auto technician at Larsson’s. “It can be a difficult time for a sedan: their bodies start to change––mostly due to rust––the sound of their exhaust can drop a couple of octaves, and they can start to develop blemishes on their paint job.”

It’s around this time that vehicles start throwing up irrelevant––and irreverent––error codes, many of which can be ignored, according to Jacoby. “For example, there’s a pretty good chance that if your 14-year-old car displays a P0069 error code, it’s not actually indicating an issue with the manifold pressure barometric pressure correlation,” he says.

This stage of automotive adolescence can be a trying time for vehicle and owner alike. Cars can become standoffish, refusing to get out of the garage in the morning or recognize the authority of their owners. Failure to correct this behavior early on can result in the car growing emboldened, and the next stop often involves the vehicle displaying increasingly edgy error codes as it gauges what it can get away with.

Drivers should keep an eye out for some early warning, including codes like “7734” (hell) and “8075” (slob). “I remember the first time it happened to me,” says Jacoby. “I was pulling into the drive-thru to pick up a Bacon McDruple when my odometer rolled over to “35380”. I mean, it’s got a point… I have been packing on the pounds lately, but my truck outweighs me by about 2,100 pounds, so it’s not one to talk.”

Russo recalled an incident earlier this year when the vehicle threw up a P0420 error code. While this DTC designation would usually indicate a malfunctioning catalytic converter, an emissions test ruled out the possibility early on. Regardless, all the other signs were there: sluggish performance, an unusual odor from the tailpipe, and a tendency to stall out whenever the vehicle passed a store selling Pringles. It was around this time that Russo says he also found a Phish CD in the rarely-used 4th slot of his CD changer. “I feel so stupid. They tell you all the warning signs to look out for, but you just never think your own vehicle is going to become another statistic,” says Russo.

Manufacturers say there’s no easy fix for the automotive outbursts, which drivers must simply weather until the vehicle starts to mature. Many of the corrective measures one could apply to human adolescents—getting them involved in sports, church youth groups, or sending them to stay with their dad––don’t really translate to the vehicle world, but there is one tried-and-true method that seems to do the trick: good old-fashioned embarrassment. “I always keep a Kidz Bop CD in the glove compartment just in case. If we pull up alongside a souped-up sports car and my vehicle feels like showing off for the big boys, I can defuse the situation real quick just by cueing up their cover of ‘Party in the U.S.A.,’” says Jacoby.

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