Beating the Bureau of Automotive Repair

Dead Silence.

It’s what every Attorney goes for when the witness on the stand doesn’t have an answer. The length of the silence is important – the longer the silence, the more it becomes clear – you’re cornered – you can’t think of a good answer. You screwed up big.

It happened last week with the Bureau – A Bureau of Automotive Repair “Expert” who works in the documentation lab in Sacramento.

The vehicle was a 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass. On cross examination I asked his procedure for setting timing before sending the vehicle out on an undercover run.

To paraphrase, he stated that he jumped the two pins to put the vehicle into base timing mode. After that he hooked up his timing light and set the timing at 10 BTDC, 10 degrees off the manufacturer specs.

I asked him if he checked the check engine light during this procedure – he stated that he did not.

The Bureau put on another witness, the local rep. I again asked the proper procedure for checking timing. This guy actually knew what he was doing.

Before actually physically checking the timing, the technician needs to make sure he not only jumped the right pins, but also put the vehicle in base timing, open loop to ensure he gets the right reading. This is only assured by watching the check engine light to ensure it is flashing once you jump the pins.

I had the second Bureau representative explain the correct procedure. Then I had the Bureau rep tell us the technician at Sacramento did not correctly ensure the vehicle was put into base timing. The technician basically failed to properly check timing as agreed by his own fellow Bureau rep.

So the Attorney General puts the documentation lab tech back on the stand. Indubitably, the tech asked to go back on to the stand to defend himself and certify that he had in fact “followed manufacturer procedure.”

What happened next is what you live for as an Attorney – it’s why you fight for your clients, it’s why you go to trial, through all the bullshit, through all the procedural issues, all the photos, all the videos, all the declarations, and statements – to prove the Bureau doesn’t know what the hell they are doing.

So I ask him again, as to why he did not check the check engine light before walking around to check timing. He stated that the manufacturer did not say so. Finally after 20 minutes of pinning him down, Mitchell didn’t tell him he had to check the check engine light, ensure it was flashing to alert the tech it was placed in base timing.

Just to be clear, I asked, you did not utilize the check engine light at any point during the time you set the vehicles timing.

No I did not.

One final question, if you didn’t use the check engine light, how could you ensure you had correctly jumped the right pins? How could you ensure you had a good connection?

Dead. Silence.

Finally, after a minute of silence. . .

That’s a good question.

No shit Mr. Bureau expert. Here it’s amateur hour at the documentation lab setting up a vehicle for an undercover run without ensuring you do it right.

Here’s why you cross-examine Bureau witnesses. To my surprise, the last time he was “in the field” was 1992, the year he started working for the Bureau. With no surprise, he knew nothing about setting timing for that vehicle, or the flashing of the check engine light to let you know that you’ve jumped the right pins to check for timing.

We’re talking people’s lives here. We’re talking gold shield station certificates, we’re talking citations that affect job prospects and employment, we’re talking monumental consequences for shops.

The Bureau gets up there with their arrogance, understandably thinking that no god damn defense Attorney is going to outwit the ASE Master Certified, doing this for 35 years, automotive expert who works for the state.

Then I ask. . .

Why are you so quiet?

This is why you fight.


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