Die Zitrone

The ongoing saga of The Lemon continues. In the spirit of it being an Opel car, it is also henceforth know as Die Zitrone. When means The Lemon. Although the car is of German origins, it was built in Belgium but we’ll ignore this minor detail.

About 3 weeks ago, I leapt into The Lemon to drive between the two offices at work that I currently split time between. The car promptly turned on 2 service lights and the automatic transmission would not shift out of 3rd gear.

Of course, this happened on the Wednesday before we were to go out looking to buy a replacement for it. :(

From that point on, it would run like Baby Bears Porridge – Just Right, until it warmed up. Then it would flip into emergency / limp-home mode.

I decided I was tired of throwing money in the direction of Holden – I’d do some car work of my own. First step was to find what the service codes were. Dealers and garages will happily attach their diagnostic equipment and find the service codes – for a fee. Mr Google came in handy, and I found a place selling car service code scanners. For less the price of paying a garage for 2 vehicle scans, I now have my very own service code scanner.

In the meantime, I found I could drive the car like a manual – just put the transmission in first, second, third, and try and do so at about the right engine speed. That got me to and from work for a fortnight.

Using the service code scanner turned up 3 codes: P0220, P1550 and P1890. These code indicate a throttle position sensor error and an automatic transmission switch to emergency / limp-home mode.

A bunch more googling showed that the fault here could be the electronic throttle body – they get gummed up and need cleaning. A happy day with oldest son pulling that out and cleaning it left the car no worse. And no better either.

The remaining possible faults were a serious failure of the throttle body, or a stuffed engine computer (also called the ECU or ECM). A quick trip to my friendly local mechanic confirmed this diagnosis. The packing-it-in-only-when-warmed up left me suspecting the more expensive of the possible failures – the ECU.

Now an ECU in a modern car is a pretty serious beast, and in this car it controls EVERYTHING. It makes the power windows go. It runs the engine. It runs the door locks. It does the cruise control. Without an ECU the car is just a big pile of scrap metal. Trouble is, a new ECU costs about $1500, and then you need your friendly local Holden dealer to program it to the car – setting things like the type of ABS you have, putting in the Vehicle ID number, setting the various car options (power windows – yes/no, rear window wiper – yes/no) and so on. Programming it to the car allegedly costs another $300.

Mr Google came to the rescue again. ECU’s can be repaired, they are know to fail quite frequently and especially in this model of car. HINT TO DESIGNERS: Bolting a lump of electronics onto the side of a hot vibrating engine is NOT the way to make the electronics reliable. Most of the ECU repairs I found require the unit to be sent to England. Then – relief, Injectronics in Melbourne also fix them, with agencies through Sprint Auto Parts in SA and REPCO nationally.

Ripping the ECU and immobiliser out is a 20 minute job if you know what you are doing. If you don’t, like me, it takes about 3 hours. Anyhow, I got the sucker out and dropped it in last weekend to be sent away for it’s lobotomy. A few days later an exchange unit was sent back with all the car programming transferred into it, and I fitted that today. The last week has been difficult – transport-wise, but we managed.

Re-assembly of everything, again, takes about 20 minutes when you know what you are doing. I did quite well to have it done in about an hour and a half.

HOORAY! The car seems to be running OK now.

Now we can sell it. I just need to get one more thing fixed first :(


Once an engineer, always an engineer….. :)

Maggie is starting to show her age now – every service is costing us over a grand and now she’s reluctant to fire up at the traffic lights into second gear.

Still she made a fetching sight on Thursday when I parked her – completed with at least a dozen bird turd slatters – next to the brand new Jag that was the factory owner’s (stay tuned soon for a Gone Chocco artice on my day at the Ernest Hillier chocolate factory 95th birthday celebrations).

Comment by Kath Lockett | October 25th, 2009 8:28 am | Permalink

Thanks for the information, very helpful. What did injectronics repairs for the ECM cost, thanks.

Comment by Phillip Cheong | October 28th, 2009 9:01 pm | Permalink

Phillip – $550, including fees, transport, etc. So that’s the total price. In the circumstances I think thats not too bad.

If you need to do this job yourself there are a bunch of hints on HOW to do things.

1. The ECU is in the engine bay bolted onto the side of the engine, on the right hand side as you stand at the open bonnet. Removing the connectors is easy when you know what to do – there is a big metal clamp thing which will unlatch with the CAREFUL aid of a screwdriver – but watch out for the plastic release clip thats behind the clamp and which you MUST press down to release it.

2. The ECU unbolts easily.

3. The get the immobiliser out you need to partly disassemble the steering column plastic covers. You can, I think, get away with just taking the top portion off. This only needs you to undo 2 screws – turn the steering wheel 90 degrees to the right to expose one screw (remove little plastic cover, then its a Philips head to remove). Then do the same for a rotate 90 degrees to the left. The cover is clipped on and you sort of tilt the top front up and back toward the instrument cluster. You may need to remove the bottom part of the cover as well (screw at the bottom) for access so you can get at the immobiliser electrical connector.

4. To remove the immobiliser you most likely need to take out the ignition key barrel. Put the key in and turn to the FIRST click only. Then use a centre punch, or a long piece of stiff wire to poke down through a plastic slot (visible from the right hand side when all covers are removed) – this releases the barrel and it will pop out. Put it somewhere safe and be very careful not to disturb it. The immobiliser should then just slip off.

5. You need to send away the ECU, the immobiliser, and the key.

Comment by Wally | October 28th, 2009 9:21 pm | Permalink

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