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When Is A Steering Problem NOT A Steering Problem?

July 13, 2015

The CIO called me on Monday morning.

Rodney, the head of the Family  Search organization couldn’t get into email over the weekend. 

Our logs show it was up all weekend.

Well, something isn’t right. Figure it out.

Problems are not always what they seem. Often a problem in one area shows up as a symptom somewhere else. 

My car saga continues. Last week I noticed that the steering had become “loose.” There was a lot more play in the steering wheel, meaning I had to turn it farther before the car would respond. It kind of freaked me out the first time it happened on the freeway. I was sure I was headed for the truck in the next lane. In one of my favorite movies, “Always” the pilot runs out of gas just short of the airstrip.

Oh good. I was rusty on panic.

It felt like that.

Being a confirmed “car guy,” my first thought was to go look online for a similar problem and solution. I found lots of articles and most of them pointed at replacing the rack. You’ve heard of rack and pinion steering? There’s an actual part in your car called a rack. I watched a 30 minute video on how to remove it. The video was 30 minutes, the process looks like it took a couple of days. 

I still have a junked Lexus in my driveway. I could pull the rack off the junk one and replace the rack in my car. I tried getting the rack off. The junked Lexus doesn’t have an engine. I had plenty of room to work. I couldn’t get it off. I can’t imagine trying to get it off with the engine in place. 

My car is still drivable, so I didn’t worry too much about the problem. I worked on it a little every few days, with very little success. Then, last week I finally decided to get it checked out at a mechanic shop. I figured they would diagnose it for me for free. 

Your struts are bad. 

Excuse me?

The struts in the back have totally failed. You are riding on the springs alone. That’s causing the steering issue.

That made no sense to me. I had a steering problem, the suspension seemed fine. And yet, I might as well try fixing the problem he diagnosed. New struts are about $150 a piece and I needed two. However, old struts, like say, off a junked red Lexus were mine for a Saturday’s worth of labor. 

The mechanic was right about the struts being bad. They looked like they had been shot; hydraulic fluid all over them, the rubber boots blown apart. Replacing them with the ones from the red Lexus took most of Saturday afternoon. Once I got everything put back together, I took it for a test drive. 

Amazing. The steering was back to normal. 

I figured out what happened. When the struts failed and the car started running on just the springs, it lowered the rear of the car. That made the front come up slightly and the front tires no longer had as good a grip. So, something completely unrelated had caused the problem.

It’s what we found on the email outage. My team quickly diagnosed the problem.

It wasn’t us.

What do you mean?

Well, the email servers were up, but the front-end servers were unavailable. 


Our servers were accessible, but no one could get to them. One of the system further downstream died. 

What do people use the front-end servers for?

Mostly just to access email.

Finding root cause is always a challenging task. Don’t assume that the symptoms relate the underlying cause. This idea is why I spend so much time on outage bridges with my current teams. I’m one of the peopel who understand the big picture. It helps when troubleshooting to understand how all the pieces of the car tie together. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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