What is This, the Symptom or the Problem?

During this past year I’ve written about getting your War Wagon ready for those breakdown calls out on the golf course.

It would be great to hear that the topic prompted some of you out there to build your own version of a war wagon as to be better prepared so the next breakdown call is less stressful and more manageable.

Moving along I scratched the surface of engine trouble shooting with The Mower Down articles. Equipment Managers and Technicians are under a lot of pressure daily to be problem solvers and quite often super heroes, saving equipment operators and their mower in distress. Or should I say the Superintendents in distress?

On an almost daily basis we encounter many of these common distress calls from our equipment operators. “My mower won’t start, I have flat tire or my mower won’t cut and I am stuck!” Quite often the breakdown call comes when we are in the middle of an urgent repair. At least the call, gives us chance to get out of the shop for a breather and an opportunity to view how well our equipment is cutting.

Having spent my entire adult career in the golf industry I quickly learned from the beginning that on either the routine or the not so routine days there is never enough to time to get all done. When it boils down to equipment repair and maintenance there is plenty of job security as I have never run out of work to do.

The lack of enough time is like the monkey we can’t get off our back. We need to manage time as much as possible. Our time is used in so many ways each day it is hard to keep track of it all. The topic this month is stopping and taking a look at symptoms and problems.

Repair time can be saved through a better understanding of what is happening to cause the current breakdown or failure. Are you trying to repair the symptom? Or are you finding the problem and making the proper repair?

Something as simple as a flat tire on a mower sitting in the maintenance building can become time consuming and in its own way complex. A flat tire can be addressed in a few different ways. Air up the tire and send the operator on their way, or simply repair or replace the tire. In an effort to get the operator and mower on their way we opted put air in the tire. An hour later the call may come in on the radio for a flat tire on the same mower. A result, just putting air in the tire only masked the symptom of the flat but did not resolve the problem. At least if we are prepared with our war wagon, we can to head out and replace the flat tire with a good spare used tire wheel assembly, with a plan of replacing the flat tire with a new one later in the day.

Fast forward to tomorrow and once again the same mower now with a new tire in place has gone flat again. What has happened? It was assumed the old tire had a hole in it and needed to be replaced. Time and money was expended to replace the old tire with a new one and that ended up as only a repair of the symptom and did not resolve the problem again. At this point the used spare tire and wheel were reinstalled, and this left us scratching our heads as the mower headed out the door. What is the next step to stop this flat tire from becoming a mini series of events? It very obvious what the symptom is, the tire is going flat. The bead area of the rim was even wire brushed and cleaned as part of the new tire installation. So now laying at your feet on the floor before you is a brand new tire on the rim and it is flat. Now what? The actual problem has not been found. The only thing accomplished was spending time and money throwing repairs at flat tire and not really knowing what was is the cause of the flat. What should have been done in the first place? What has gone wrong? The problem or it can be called the root of the problem has not been addressed. Now you are going to grimace and shake your head ah, yes this has happened to me too.

Let’s go back to the beginning of when we first had a flat tire before us. Rather than making an assumption that there is a hole in the tire and replacing it, how about troubleshooting the flat and finding the source of the symptom. How do we find the source without just replacing the tire? With tire repair that is easy and it the first step in finding why the tire has gone flat. Every shop should have a water tub to place a tire into to look for air bubble indicating a leak. In this case, the air bubbles are coming from a leaking valve in the valve stem. Aha! A two dollar part has caused all this aggravation. If only this was done in the first place. The final step now is to replace the faulty tire valve and once again change the tire and wheel on the mower. With the valve stem replaced test the tire in water again for leaks. In the end the problem was found and the symptom eliminated.

The story gets a little dramatic and drawn out but, the point is to make you think about what the actual problem is amidst the symptoms.

We don’t want to fall into the trap of being just a parts changer in an attempt to make a symptom disappear. So think about that dead battery you’re going to have tomorrow morning. Don’t automatically assume the battery is bad until you do a little troubleshooting first.

My email box is always open so please keep the questions, ideas and suggestion coming my way to Brian Duffy at

Brian Duffy’s career spans thirty five plus years in the golf industry. With a diverse background of working on golf courses and turning wrenches on all types of equipment. Plus teaching Golf Course Equipment Mechanics and progressing into turf equipment sales and service. For any questions, comment or ideas contact me at

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