February 20

2008 GMC Sierra 2500 HD Duramax Diesel – No Start

GMC Trucks


Mark: Hello, it's Mark from Remarkable Speaking. I'm here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC Canada, Vancouver's, and frankly, one of Canada's best auto service experiences. And we're talking cars. How you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: I'm doing well. 

Mark: So today's victim is a 2008 GMC Sierra that had a problem with its diesel. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah, well basically it had an no start issue. So when you go to turn the key, there was a warning on the dash security system. I can't remember the exact wording, but there's basically a warning, a security system wasn't operative. And when you turn the key to start, it wouldn't even make a click. The security system had basically shut out the starting of the vehicle. 

Mark: So what sort of testing and diagnosis do you do when it's that kind of situation? 

Bernie: Well, there's always the hook up, the scan tool and see what trouble codes are there. And that was the first thing we did. But there's a little bit of a backstory on this vehicle.

So this has been a client of ours for a few years. And just under a year ago, he brought the vehicle in for the same issue. The batteries were stone dead. And the batteries were old. We replaced the batteries, but the vehicle still wouldn't start. So we went through quite a rigamarole. There was a software upgrade we did to the vehicle and there's a key relearn, a theft relearn process with the vehicle keys. We did that procedure, got the vehicle started, running great out the door, and all was happy.

A couple months later, batteries went dead again. Same thing happened. Now that's kind of unusual. Normally the batteries, if they go dead, you replace the batteries and the vehicle starts, but for some reason it kept losing its sort of memory of the key. So anyways, it'd been quite a few months and then the vehicle batteries didn't seem to be dead, but the vehicle wouldn't start. So he had it towed in. 

So we kind of approached it with slightly different eyes going, okay, this is the third time this has happened. You know, the batteries are good and all these other things, there must be some further issue with the vehicle.

So in addition to scanning, there was a code for the transponder module not getting information, which we figured, okay, it's probably time to replace that piece and really inspect the wiring under the steering column. And when we did the steering column wiring inspection, found a number of electrical aftermarket devices hooked into those systems, hooked into that wiring, which is a definite no-no, a definite cause for problems.

So that's kind of where we got with that. We put a new transponder in and then kind of analyzed the wiring, all these devices that we'd found that may have been disabling the system from starting. 

Mark: Okay. How often do you run into this sorts of things where people have jury rigged their vehicle with aftermarket parts that might or might not cause problems?

Bernie: From time to time we run into it. And I've seen vehicles where someone's removed an alarm, for instance, and most alarm systems have an ability to not start the vehicle. Most of the vehicles yeah, it'll basically prevent the vehicle starter from working. So someone removes the alarm, but they don't remove the relays and other items from that system and that ends up causing problems.

I'll actually show you some pictures of this thing, so you can get the depth of the items we found because it was kind of mind blowing. So there's our GMC truck.

2008 GMC Sierra 2500 HD Duramax Diesel - No Start

And these are the items that we removed. If you just kind of just take a minute to look at the number of wires. Now, one thing on the top left is a dash cam, which was somehow wired into all this mess of items here. And I mean, just if you just take a minute to look at the, you know, sort of the, I'll move my mouse pointer around.

2008 GMC Sierra 2500 HD Duramax Diesel - No Start

But if you look at the gauge of some of the wires, and just the number of connectors and connections and little black boxes and pieces. We're not a hundred percent sure what all of these items are. A lot of times when a vehicle is sold used, the seller will actually put a GPS tracker in the vehicle.

So if there's payments being made on the vehicle, for instance, and payments don't get made, the vehicle can be tracked or shut down. That's not an uncommon thing on used vehicles. You may be driving a vehicle that has one of those and you don't even know it. You know, at the end of the day, if the vehicle's paid off and you own it, they just shut things off on their end. But the hardware still remains and can cause problems. 

We showed these items to the owner, he figured that may have been a tuner chip of some sort but we were never a hundred percent sure. I think, you know, it could have been an aftermarket anti-theft system or an alarm system, but none the less, these items, you know, they can cause a number of problems. I should have taken a picture of what we found with the steering column where everything was wired up. But basically the solution was to remove all of these items and rewire everything, solder heat shrink, get all the connections established right back to normal.

And then redo the anti-theft programming for the keys, which we did. And the vehicle was a success. It started great. The other interesting thing I didn't mention is the battery. After the client dropped the vehicle off, the battery started going dead. And I mean, we would charge it up during the day, come back the next morning, it was completely dead. And we had the vehicle for a few days. One evening I came back to the shop to do something. It was dark out and I noticed that the radio was on. Somehow these items were waking things up in the vehicle that shouldn't have been woken up. And after removing them all, charging the battery, next day started fine, battery was good and charged. So hopefully this'll, you know, cure a number of other ailments that have been going on in the vehicle. 

Mark: The current owner had purchased the vehicle used? 

Bernie: He had but he said it was only a couple years old when he bought it but being a, I think it's 2008, I mean, that's a 15 year old vehicle at this point. Things could have been added on that he'd kind of forgotten details of. So, you know, like we do that, right? Sometimes you put in something and you go, oh yeah, it's, you know, get on with life. And that thing's been in the vehicle for the last 10 years and hard to remember back. 

Mark: So in your opinion, was this done by, possibly done by the owner or was it done by like you know, aftermarket service? Like a stereo store where they install alarm systems or something like that? 

Bernie: Oh, it would've been done by a company for sure. You know, the dash cam for instance. I mean, that's probably something that's a newer install, cuz dash cams, they're more modern type of thing. But yeah, I'd say, like professionally installed for sure. But the other thing I'll comment about the installation is a lot of these items, you know, the wires have been stripped. The wires for these components that we just looked at pictures of, the wires were just twisted together. They weren't all soldered and done with a great deal of care. I mean, it seemed to work fine for many years.

We don't install alarms or stereos at our shop because, I mean, we don't do them all the time and the way we tend to do a lot of the work, you know, it takes way too long for the amount of money. You can go to a stereo installer and pay a half or a third of the price we would charge to do that job. And good installers will solder things. But a lot of these things are probably done at a kind of quick piece work kind of thing. And, you know, you've got a hundred bucks, to install it you gotta do it pretty fast.

Mark: So how, if this kind of stuff is, I'm sure there's probably a big current draw. All kinds of issues that are going on. How do you know for sure that these new things you're adding in as you're customizing your vehicle, aren't gonna cause you problems down the road? 

Bernie: Well, anything added on, of course, can cause a problem and you don't really know down the road. But I think the key is, is the installer competent? I mean, I know you know good places where they do stereo and alarm installs and they do things, you know, they're very competent places. You know, it's really a matter of when you wire the stuff in, you wire it to the right spots and things aren't gonna cause problems.

But anytime you're doing something for theft prevention you know, that's gonna disable some system in the vehicle. It's very good to know what it is and where the components are and maybe have it even a little map and give it to the owner of how it's installed. Now, of course, the vehicle's sold to the next person that the information may not get carried on.

But it's not about idea to have that. This thing even, I don't even know if it's in that picture, but there's a little mini toggle switch you know, that was hidden under the dash. And you know, I don't even know if the owner knew it was under there. I mean, these are things that, you know, sometimes they switch alarms on. They switch alarms off, but it's good to know those kind of details, if you ever have a problem with something. 

So my advice, if you get in something installed, actually have someone go through the installation with you. Maybe even take a couple pictures or have some diagrams, just some stuff so you know what's where if something goes.

Mark: Is this more common on diesel vehicles? 

Bernie: No, it's an any vehicle. Yeah, no, it's not a diesel thing. This is just either a theft prevention or a tracking thing from a dealer from a car sales company to, you know, make sure they get their payments and someone isn't gonna take off with the vehicle.

And having a tracker is actually a really good thing to have in a vehicle. I mean, it would be nothing more satisfying than having your vehicle stolen, and going, Hey, you know what? It's sitting over in this street here, and you can just call the police and have em go over and get the vehicle. It's a very handy part. 

GM vehicles, they have OnStar. Almost every vehicle has it. I mean, you have to pay for that service normally, but it's probably better to pay for some of their services than it is to add a whole bunch of other stuff on. So, you know, it's good to check your vehicle out. OnStar isn't the only service like that out there. 

Mark: So this is obviously quite the headache for the vehicle owner. Hopefully everything's good now? 

Bernie: Yeah, I think so. This is one thing that's certainly good to have found all these details. And, you know, I guess the question to ask is, well, why wouldn't we have looked at that the first time the vehicle came in? You know, and I asked myself that too. Well, the batteries were dead, we fixed the batteries. The codes that we got now were different than the codes that were stored in the vehicle computer and reprogramming the key worked and solved the issue.

So there wasn't really any reason to go, let's dig further into the system. So sometimes, I know it's annoying, sometimes diagnostics don't happen as fast as people like them to. Most of the time they do, but kinda like our body, sometimes you got a pain somewhere, it's like going for tests and the doctor, well, I don't know, we don't know what's wrong with it. And it either goes away or you wait till it gets worse. And you know, sometimes cars are like that as well. 

Mark: So how is this generation of GMC Sierras for reliability? 

Bernie: Yeah, they're good. It's a good truck. You know, I like these GMC diesels. I still say that they're the most reliable of the big three. We can still use those. Dodge, Ford, and GM. I still like them and I know we'll probably get some hate mail from this one from our Ford and Dodge lovers, but, you know, they're good too. I just think these tend to be a little more reliable. We see less of them in our shop.

Mark: If you're looking for service for your GMC in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can book online at pawlikautomotive.com or you can call (604) 327-7112. They will find out what's going on. They'll get ready for your appointment. If you leave a message, they'll call you back and find out what's going on. They're busy. You have to call and book, or book ahead online. Thanks so much for watching. We really appreciate it. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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