The Truth About Cars » Piston Slap http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Piston Slap http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/piston-slap/ Piston Slap: The Last Afghani Trail to Blaze http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/piston-slap-the-last-afghani-trail-to-blaze/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/piston-slap-the-last-afghani-trail-to-blaze/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 11:26:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=860353
M.D.K. writes:

UNCLASSIFIED

I am currently at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan where I will often find myself motoring around the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in one of the last generation Chevy Trailblazers. It is the straight six variety and it has undoubtedly led a difficult life. My requirements are few however…pretty much I need something that can do 25 miles an hour or so and not strand me on the other side of the airfield. As a bonus, the Trailblazer has a working AC and radio. What it doesn’t have is the ability to do 25 or so miles an hour regularly and get me back from the other side of the airfield.

Pressing the gas pedal beyond a few millimeters will get me stalling and/or backfiring. In general it sounds like it is running on 4 cylinders. It will surge and run normally for a second and then not. It seems to get worse the hotter it is (which is bad this time of year.) I took the damn thing to the motorpool and they told me I can turn it in and walk back if I don’t like it (the drawdown is a mother). I had to jump out and push it up the little ramp into our compound as it lacked the power to accomplish this feat on its own. As a Ford guy, I get some amusement out of this and taunting the Chevy fans but the fact is we could really use this thing. A bunch of us IT types have stared under the hood for some time and haven’t figured anything out. I am mechanically inclined (I’ve changed motors and stuff before) so I think I am the truck’s last hope.

This thing would be the nicest vehicle in our fleet by virtue of the AC if it would run. No, I can’t pull the damn codes as the PX is short on OBDII readers (and toilet paper) and there isn’t an Autozone within 7000 miles or so. If this may be something simple like a fuel filter or something I’m willing to get some parts sent over and crawl under myself. Just need to know if there are any common issues with these things. I don’t see any major mechanical issues like overheating or oil in the coolant. I appreciate your input.

UNCLASSIFIED

Sajeev answers:

So…no professional diagnostic tools, no basic Autozone diagnostic tools, and you’re the truck’s last hope? And an LS1-FTW swap is totally out of the question?

Checking the forums, it’s possible that a cam position actuator solenoid is the problem…and it will not throw a code.  Or maybe a dirty throttle body, a clogged fuel filter or a dirty air filter.  If the fuel you receive out there isn’t the highest quality, the filter is a major concern.  And maybe your IT folks have electronic contact cleaner to clean the throttle body AND the mass air flow meter. But I’m all over the map: here’s my plan of action, given limited resources:

  1. Replace fuel filter, if other vehicles need regular filter changes out in the field.
  2. Shake out the air filter, bumping it on a large surface. Don’t bang it against a wall hard enough to damage it. I find large plastic garbage cans work well here.
  3. Clean the mass air flow meter and throttle body with electronic contact cleaner.
  4. Pull the spark plugs, clean and gap them.
  5. Replace the Cam Position Actuator Solenoid: even Amazon stocks them, maybe one of their drone prototypes can deliver it.

I will keep my fingers crossed that bad gas and dusty air are your only problems.

But no matter what, thank you for writing to us and thank you for your service.  

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

 

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Piston Slap: New CV Boots? A Split Decision! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/piston-slap-new-cv-boots-a-split-decision/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/piston-slap-new-cv-boots-a-split-decision/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:53:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=860313 TTAC Commentator Detroit Iron writes:

Long time no talk (I sound like a native American an Indian).  (Yeah, not so much. – SM)

I have an 09 Outback with ~65k miles.  I had noticed a bit of a burning smell after running it for a while and it was pretty strong after a recent trip.  I thought it smelled like a belt slipping but when I popped the hood the two belts looked fine.  After looking around for a minute I realized that the passenger side CV boot had torn and was dripping grease on to the cat.  Checking the other side revealed that the driver’s side boot was also torn.  Apparently this is a pretty common failure for scoobies.  The Internet says I should be concerned if I hear a “popping” sound or the clunk associated with failing bearings.  Luckily I am hearing neither.  The dealer had a set price of $370 per boot for replacing the boots that the service manager somewhat disconcertingly blurted out almost before I finished describing the problem.  The independent shop thought they could do both for less than $500 if the axles weren’t bad, but if they were bad then it would be another $450 per.

My question is this:  Can I just get split boots from JC Whitney and pack them with grease or do I really need to have the pros fix it?

Sajeev answers:

The split boots are probably a great idea, Dorman makes good stuff for old cars when the OEMs can or will not. That said, I’ve never used split boots on my rides as I roll RWD only.  But here’s the real problem: armchair analysis.

  • Do you think road dirt/debris lodged inside the boot will eventually eat the axle bearings?
  • Do you have any doubts to that question?
  • Is that your final answer?

Only you can answer that and decide what’s worth your time/money.  The $20-something for split boots is a cheap fix that’ll probably work, as you mentioned the axles are neither clunking nor popping: now try it from a standstill with the steering wheel turned at full lock (i.e. full left AND full right) and listen for the clunk.

If that test works out, well, go ahead and use the split boots.  They will probably extend the life of the axle long enough to justify their expense.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Piston Slap: Bouncing Back or Sprung Out? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/piston-slap-bouncing-back-or-sprung-out/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/piston-slap-bouncing-back-or-sprung-out/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 12:55:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=855609

John writes:

You recommended to one writer that he consider replacing the springs on his car (as well as all other wear items in the suspension). Other then the obvious broken spring or the car sitting of the spring stops, when and how do you evaluate the need for springs? Do you recommend stock setting or performance springs for replacement?

Thanks, John (Jag, Kia, Miata, Chev)

Sajeev answers:

The most obvious sign of a worn out coil spring is a super plush ride combined with a saggy ride height at any corner. Funny tire wear or an impossible to find groan could also be a sign of bad coil springs. If you drive on suspension punishing roads (Boston-like urban, or unpaved rural) and drive a vehicle that’s 5+ years old with 100,000-ish miles, odds are a saggy coil has sprung its last proper rebound.

This isn’t obvious like a leaky air suspension bladder puking out pressurized air, but metal fatigue is for real. Even when not felt: springs, much like headlight bulbs, go bad very slowly.

While shocks/dampers affect ride, they can’t do a darn thing if the springs collapse to the point of no return. A proper ride height check is good, or just measuring right height from left to right with a few fingers.  If one side has less space between your fingers, you just diagnosed the problem. (speaking from personal experience)

Fortunately there are quick fixes for many cars: something like Monroe’s Quick Strut saves you money (labor hours) or time (in your garage) as you replace both the shock and strut in one shot, cheaper than changing the strut itself. Nice.

Last question: stick with stock or go performance aftermarket?  That’s a personal preference for which you gave me zero personal insight.  I normally default to retaining the stock spring, as it has the correct rate to ensure a fine ride/handling balance and won’t bottom out when loaded with passengers/cargo.  It’s always the safe bet. But…

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

When it comes to shocks/struts/dampers or whatever you like to call them, that’s a different story. Some of my favorite performing vehicles use stock springs with aftermarket shocks of the premium performance variety:  Koni or Bilstein for starters.  Most drivers need a stock spring (even if they don’t want to admit it) but they certainly want superior control over the spring’s up/down motion.  Aside from well sorted out performance cars, you’d be shocked at just how much better an OEM spring and performance damper work together to bring a big-ass smile to your face when hugging a corner or two. And that’s even more reason to stick with stock springs.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Double A (Beep! Beep!) Em, Cee, Oh… (Part II) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-double-a-beep-beep-em-cee-oh-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-double-a-beep-beep-em-cee-oh-part-ii/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 12:06:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=855409 TTAC commentator M0L0TOV has an update for us:

Hey Sajeev,

I figured I’d send you an update so people would know what happened to my situation. Well, I went ahead and tried to contact AAMCO. First I tried contacting them via their website but almost a week had passed and no response. So I contact them via their Facebook page, the next day I got a response with a phone number, name, and e-mail address of somebody at corporate to contact. I sent them an e-mail, I got a call from the owner of the Aamco where I had originally taken my car within ten minutes.

He stated he was notified by the customer service department and we had a disagreement. He offered to not charge me for the labor and I would pay for the part. I was perfectly fine with paying for the part, I wasn’t looking for a free ride. I thought their offer was fair because it would have been replaced when the work was originally being done. I picked up my car today and paid $214.00 and I get a 90 day warranty. So yes, the system works. I appreciate everybody’s advice on this matter and I was able to force their hand.

Thanks for all your help Sajeev and the rest of the TTAC readers!

Sajeev answers:

Behold the power of social media.

BEHOLD IT RIGHT NOW!

Between what you experienced, my firsthand experiences (disclosure: social media is my full time gig) and “little” things like the Arab Spring or whatever makes people love Justin Bieber, there’s no doubt social media is a powerful tool for customer service.  Or a service for powerful tools…but I digress.

The system works, with pleases me immensely.  So kudos to AAMCO for doing the right thing, once they heard about it.  And doing it rather quickly: it’s rare ’round these Piston Slap bloggy parts when a company interacts with one of us and does the right thing. So let’s relish this moment of (seemingly) good karma.

Happy Monday to you, Dear Reader.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

 

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Super Piston Slap: I Know What I Don’t Know http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/super-piston-slap-i-know-what-i-dont-know/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/super-piston-slap-i-know-what-i-dont-know/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:45:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=851082

Were you ever taught something you already knew, something you normally teach others? That moment of surrealism came for this regional LeMons Judge while attending the Newbie School in a new racing series called the World Racing League. Baruth already gave you a tease: I set aside the idiotic ironic Indian Chief hat of LeMons for a weekend stint as a racer/pit crew/errand boy with the same team that brought you the iconic Ford Fairmont Wagon: now with more Granada.

To see the stance is to know it: Property Devaluation Racing made a worthy successor to their Fox station wagon.  So when these guys offered me a spot in the Granada and their similarly-spec’d Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, I took Friday off, forked over the fees, picked up another Fox Body loyalist from Hobby Airport (you might remember his Homer Simpson car) and hit the road for College Station.

I drove the Granada for 10 minutes during the Friday afternoon test ‘n tune session, and felt great: the Granada’s flat cornering with mild understeer was a natural transition from my street going Fox Body Cougar.  But the first day of racing?

Logging 100-ish miles in the Thunderbird was a different story: the Granada’s tame demeanor was replaced with something a (handling savvy) teammate later explained as body roll induced oversteer. The Thunderbird had razor-sharp turn-in, so sloppy steering inputs netted body roll which reduced the rear tire’s contact patch, easily inducing oversteer.  Lap 1 resulted in a huge spin entering a corner at around 50mph.  Lap 2 was no better: a similar wipeout left me bewildered, frustrated.

Both times I self-reported my impending black flags before the staff received word from the corner workers. Perhaps LeMons taught me well.

Not well enough. The Thunderbird’s owner’s words in my Nerdie helmet kit were clear: spin again and you’re out for good.  It was the reality check I needed, quickly swallowing my pride and methodically retracing the track at a slower pace. This let me understand how drastically the Thunderbird sits/lifts with my steering inputs.

Racing the Thunderbird was like a scientific experiment: repeat the process but alter a variable every time.  Enter the turn at the right speed, monitor your steering inputs and smoothly accelerate exit post-apex.  If you turned too hot, the rear tires howled: slightly dial the wheel back and they shut up.  Thank goodness for TWS’ banked oval, it was the only place I blipped the throttle, downshifted to 3rd and comfortably unwound the Thunderbird’s wicked Windsor V8 to pass “slower” cars. Sure I was slow and hyper-conscious elsewhere, but the banked oval experience continues to give me goosebumps.

Now the World Racing League is an interesting series: damn near any class of car races on the same track.  I was passed by far more professional drivers in LeMons cars, Spec Miatas and misc. track beasts to the point my left hand seemingly spent more time doing the “point by” for others than grasping the tiller. And a certain Poorvette absolutely clobbered every car out there, as you’d expect from the wholly under appreciated C4 Corvette.

I learned something besides the obligatory “damn that was so exciting I’d totally do it again” statement of any autojourno in my shoes: my racing technique toolbox just multiplied. The Thunderbird gave me a new set of tools, items previously more foreign than Portuguese.  So now I Know What I Don’t Know. Several of my friends suggested I embrace this new addiction to hone my skills, as I’m now a racer.

No dice.

Racing brought me a short term joy that I will gladly spend another $1000 in fees, gas, hotel, meals, etc. to replicate another weekend.  But the Thunderbird helped me cross a (final?) frontier: I did what made moonshiners so famous, racing/working on a boring car made from bits of more impressive vehicles. This experience crystallized my plan to write the definitive story of Ford’s underappreciated chassis.  I told others about this (including a working vacation to the Detroit Public Library) and they agreed: that’s a book they’d read.

Which isn’t exactly the point: like the benefits of grade school music programs, racing helps you in your real world.

It’s a deeply personal experience that everyone with a modicum of disposable income should try. Go race and then make yourself. Just don’t get motivated to write a book about Fox Bodies, that’s my schtick.

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Piston Slap: Front Row Seating for Milanese Discomfort? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-front-row-seating-for-milanese-discomfort/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-front-row-seating-for-milanese-discomfort/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 11:05:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=850074

TTAC Commentator BigOlds writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have a bit of an odd one, I suspect: I currently drive a fullsize pickup, but I may be taking a new job, trading my 38 mile country drive for a 38 mile drive into the city, complete with undersized garage parking. The truck will severely limit the number of acceptable spaces, and generally be a pain in there. My solution is to take over the wife’s 2008 Milan (which has been truly flawless for 75,000 miles) and buy her something else. Naturally she’s thrilled with the idea, and this piles the tough commute onto something that is well this side of new. Win-win, right?

Well, the issue is that I can NOT get comfortable driving that car. My wife adores it, and as a passenger I am fine, but when I drive I feel like the seat isn’t deep enough, or maybe not tall enough, and the backs of my thighs get extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know if this is the lateral support reviewers always talk about, but it becomes unpleasant very quickly. I have tried adjusting the seat every which way, but to take another stab at explaining it, it’s like my knees are higher than my butt, so all the weight shifts to the back of my thighs, and the seat won’t go high enough off the floor to bring my thighs level.

Anyway, since the fiscally prudent thing is for me to drive this car, I would like a way to solve this issue. Otherwise, I will probably leave the Milan with my wife and find myself the cheapest commuter car I can.

Thanks
BigOlds

Sajeev answers:

Oh my damn, Son! You done hit one of my hot buttons!

Thigh support became a thing for me back in ’03: when I drove my Mark VIII from Houston to Atlanta with almost no discomfort.  After that I was cognizant of my legs’ warning signs in many an auto show vehicle sit-down. A somewhat unfounded generalization?  Sure, so I’m certainly interested in the B&B’s opinion. 

Damn near every auto manufacturer was guilty of half-assed design at the beginning of the current millennium. And thigh support certainly took a back seat (get it?): everything from C5 Corvettes to Town Cars (but not other Panthers), the Mercedes E-class (not AMG) to the Camry sported shorter seats, thinner pads and much less support. All of which drove my right hip and both knees into spasms of discomfort.  The only brands I remember giving a free pass were Volvo, Saab and BMW.

What’s your solution? Get another car, leave the Milan with the wife. There’s no way you can enjoy the seats.  Adding more padding and/or longer cushions to cradle your thighs (then fitting new seat covers) is beyond foolish.  Swapping seats with another Ford is doable, except the seat mounts/tracks and airbag wiring could be a nightmare.  I wouldn’t even try those messaging wooden seat beads (the ones that Cab drivers supposedly rave about).

Whatever you buy, make sure you drive it for an afternoon before you pull the trigger. And never fear, as there are plenty of new cars with better seats: even the dirt cheap ones.  And, after spending a week with the new Fusion, there’s no doubt Ford fixed that seat too.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Crashing Without Your Questions! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-crashing-without-your-questions/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-crashing-without-your-questions/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 12:05:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840321

Sajeev writes:

Have I told you that I love you?  Very, very much?  Well it’s true, as your questions are the lifeblood of the column I envisioned many moons ago.  And that’s why I’m again asking for your help to keep it running.  Otherwise I’ll be forced to continue progress on my Edelbrock crash cymbal.

Yes, I took an air cleaner lid and put it on my drum rack.  Yes, it sounds even worse than it looks, even after a fair bit of hammering.  And if you people don’t start refilling my query coffers (sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com), you’re gonna hear a LOT more about my Edelbrock crash cymbal.

Trust me, you don’t want to hear about that.  It doesn’t end well for either of us, I assure you. Please!

Help me from going off the rails!  Send me damn near any question you have about your car, your dream car, or any theoretical technical question about cars that’s always stirred your mind organ.

If you want “New or Used”, email Steve directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com.  

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Eye On Ignition Safety Recalls? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-eye-on-ignition-safety-recalls/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-eye-on-ignition-safety-recalls/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 12:20:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840690 Don't take it to the Red Line! (photo courtesy: http://article.wn.com)

Bruce writes:

Sajeev,

A couple of years ago my son bought a 2004 Saturn Ion sedan from a friend of ours. It has about 90,000 miles on the clock and ran fine…until I insisted that he bring it in and get the ignition recall done. A few weeks after the recall work was completed, he was driving on 2 lane road at about 40 miles per hour and the car competely shut down…no power steering, weak power brakes. He was glad he wasn’t going faster & he wrestled the car into a parking lot, let it sit for a while, restarted it and drove home. He called the local GM dealership and they downplayed the incident and told him to bring it in at his convenience.

Now I’m really scared for him. Any advice?

Sajeev answers:

Oh dear. I guess this corner of TTAC couldn’t remain silent on the ignition recall debacle forever. That said, your letter makes me wonder if there’s another problem on this 10-ish year old machine: the Saturn had to “sit for a while” before starting back up?

Are you absolutely, positively sure the ignition switch is to blame?

Bruce replies:

Not sure yet. I’m wondering if they even replaced the switch in the first place. Poor 24 y.o. kid doesn’t have $ to buy another car so he’s stuck with this one. He called Saturn 800 number at my insistence and Saturn called his local Chevy dealer and the service mgr called him and scheduled an appt. The first ignition repair took 2 months and he enjoyed an Altima, which was fine with him, lol. According to Saturn, he’s eligible for another rental. The saga continues….Thanks Sajeev!

Sajeev concludes:

The worst thing you can do now is stress out: nothing good comes from stress when you’re detached from the repair process. That said, I am not a father: I couldn’t possibly understand your anguish. But I can say the problem isn’t hidden in some file cabinet, locked in a dark room in the RenCen. Everyone is watching and there’s a system in place to fix the problem.

Every company goes into super-customer-service-savvy crisis mode in times like these. And here’s the plan to mitigate the crisis:

And this is cold comfort to you, sadly. A high level infographic isn’t reassuring when you must go through the steps again.  Luckily GM is willing to put your son in another rental, just make sure your son does step #1 and #2 until he’s in that rental.

Then have the dealer report back with a diagnosis.  If you don’t like the diagnosis/resolution…well, perhaps we should just hope that the problem is found and fixed. Running through the plethora of scenarios only increases the stress level, it doesn’t help one iota.

How would you handle this, Best and Brightest?

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Sajeev’s Star Turn http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/sajeevs-star-turn/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/sajeevs-star-turn/#comments Sun, 15 Jun 2014 22:10:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=844721 jeeves

The inaugural season of the “World Racing League”, and the final season of operations at soon-to-be-McMansion-ized Texas World Speedway, experienced a little celebrity excitement Saturday evening when our own Sajeev Mehta took the checkered flag in an AMC-liveried Thunderbird.

Jeeves himself will be writing up the race weekend for your consumption in the near future, but as his editor and teammate I feel compelled to call him out for his solid work in support of the team. We had two mechanicals and one wreck this weekend, meaning that of our four chances to see a checkered flag (two cars, two days) only one flag was actually seen, and that was thanks to our man from the Cherokee nation the town in Texas where he was actually born and raised India. It’s tough work driving a difficult car in ninety-degree weather for any period of time and he did it exceptionally well. I leave you with this quote:

“Correr, competir, eu levo isso no meu sangue. É parte de mim. É parte da minha vida.” — Sajeev Mehta

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Piston Slap: Brooklyn’s Dream Machine? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-brooklyns-dream-machine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-brooklyns-dream-machine/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 12:29:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840273
Dave writes:
Hi Sajeev -

I live in Brooklyn and I have a 2011 Prius that I still owe about $10k on. Before mocking my choice of personal transportation, remember that driving dynamics mean next to nothing when you live in a place where it’s hard to go above 40 MPH at any given time and the roads resemble 1990′s Kosovo. That said, my best friend is the service manager at a Volvo dealership and she just received a 1993 Volvo 940 wagon on trade.

It has 124k miles on it, and it’s been garaged and meticulously maintained with new tires, new muffler, new brakes, etc. She’s having her shop give it a once-over and she can sell it to me for $3k and I’m impulsively forking over the money without giving it a second thought. I’ve always wanted to own a Volvo wagon; perhaps it’s because in 1993, our family owned a 1986 Nova and a 1991 Saturn and I was always painfully aware of the better options on the road. Psychoanalysis aside, I’ve been a ‘car guy’ my entire life but I don’t know the first thing about fixing a Volvo.

Here’s my plan: keep both the Volvo and the Prius for the summer and decide to sell one of them at the end of August. Forge a good relationship with a local, well-reviewed Volvo repair shop. Be honest with myself and realize that the Prius will likely get the boot come August.

Since I’m currently paying $300/month in car payments, I could save that much and presumably spend it on the Volvo (which I wouldn’t mind, knowing that I’d be driving my dream car). I don’t depend on my car to get to work and would put less than 10k/year on the Volvo were it to become my daily driver.

I can’t tell if this is the best or worst idea I’ve ever had and I’d love to get your thoughts.

Sajeev Answers:

Aside from parking availability, this is one of the smartest things I’ve seen in months. Here’s why.

One of my closest friends lives in Brooklyn, and I’ve spent a few days there with his family.  I kinda loved it, as so many things were within walking distance from their apartment. So I see where you’re coming from. And your assessment of the Volvo and your need to find a reputable mechanic implies you’re covering all the bases. Considering the roads and availability of public transportation in NYC, having an old Volvo as your only mode of transport isn’t a bad idea.

It’s kind of a great idea. Plus, if you fill the cargo area with crates of PBR, you’d be the coolest cat in your borough.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist making a hipster joke. 

Get the Volvo, find a good indie mechanic, register on the brickboard forums and be an active lurker, sell the Prius and live a happy life with your dream car.  Many of us will be jealous, but we’ll be happy that you are happy.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Double A (Beep! Beep!) Em, Cee, Oh… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-double-a-beep-beep-em-cee-oh/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-double-a-beep-beep-em-cee-oh/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 12:37:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840217

TTAC commentator M0L0TOV writes:

Greetings All-Knowing Sajeev,

I am looking for some insight on an ongoing issue with my workhorse. I have a 2003 Ford Focus ZX-5 with 160,000 miles. A little bit over a year ago, I had Aamco rebuild the automatic transmission on my car for the tune of $2500. Apparently, my car seems to have an appetite for transmissions, I’m on #4 now (original, warranty, junkyard, Aamco).

Lately, I noticed my car was leaving large puddles of fluid on the driveway, I checked underneath it, and saw fluid was accumulating around the transmission pan. I took my vehicle to my mechanic and he showed me what had happened. It looks like whoever worked on the transmission last (Aamco) had attempted to seal a crack in the transmission housing with silicone. From my understanding, silicone will not stand up very well to the heat and corrosive properties of ATF.

I passed by Aamco and they inspected my car, they acknowledged they had attempted a repair during the install. The owner of this Aamco franchise advised me that I would need a new transmission case and with parts and installation would cost me over $800.00. I’m a bit pissed because if they knew it was cracked, while the transmission was out, this part could have been replaced, now I have to go through a similar procedure to get this done again.

I really don’t feel like spending $800.00+ to get this done considering the age and wear on the vehicle. Should I:

  1. Try one of those additives that claims to fix leaks.
  2. Drain the transmission, clean the area, add JB Weld, and hope for the best.
  3. Have the crack welded.
  4. Try to find somebody else to do the job cheaper.
  5. Listened to my father and avoided Aamco.

I’m mechanically inclined but my skills are not advanced nor do I have the space and room to do this job myself. Besides the transmission issues, the car hasn’t given me any issues, the engine runs strong. I do have a little bit of sentimental value for the car since it was my first “new” car I ever got. I do I.T. work which requires a lot of driving and the car gets decent mileage.

P.S. Driving my Dodge Magnum R/T is not an option since it would eat me out of house and home gas wise.

Sajeev Answers:

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of problems with an AAMCO transmission franchise.  Or, heck, any franchised service shop.  Even worse, this is the second time I heard about a rebuilder cracking a transmission case.

What is the right move? Franchise owner eats the bill and hopes you remain a happy customer. If this only happens via running it up the AAMCO channel, so be it.  Hit up their Twitter or Facebook accounts and ask the store owner for his regional manager.   If it’s not too late, go do that.

If AAMCO doesn’t care, well, you are SOL.   There are plenty of reputable rebuilders that dropship refreshed unit to a recommended installer, complete with a good warranty. I’ve heard good things about Jasper and the B&B previously agreed.  Or get one from the junkyard and hope for the best, again. I’ve personally had a great Ford AOD rebuilt from a franchise shop, but I interviewed them, inspected their shop and asked them detailed questions about their AOD-skills. They passed the test and that made me happy.

Since you do like the car, I suggest getting a quality rebuild.  And if there’s a local shop with a good reputation and extensive knowledge of Ford specific transmission issues, give it another shot. Because the aftermarket usually fixes all the weak spots in transmissions, combine that with an aftermarket ATF cooler and you’ll be set for many years to come.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: The Importance of Enlightened Diagnoses http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-the-importance-of-enlightened-diagnoses/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-the-importance-of-enlightened-diagnoses/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 12:54:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=835201

Geoff writes:

Sajeev, I enjoy your TTAC contributions very much. I have a 2002 Dodge Ram with a 5.9 liter V8. Starts every time and idles fine initially. But just when it transitions over from the cold start sequence to Normal running it starts to act as if it is gasping for air.

If I give it a stab of WOT or if I shut it off and restart everything is fine for the rest of the time I drive it which makes me think O2 sensor. But looking at the O2 output it remains high when the engine is stumbling but after the WOT or restart the O2 sensor signal begins cycling up and down as it should. It will throw a CEL if I let it keep going once the stumble starts – but I can’t remember the code at the moment.

Since I know how to replace a starter the restart is my “fix” but any pointers on where to go next? After it throws the light the engine stops sputtering and the idle returns to normal.

Sajeev answers:

“But I can’t remember the code at the moment.”

Writing to an automotive help column without posting the CEL code is like dating a gal/guy that’s a total jerk, but not pretty/handsome enough to justify the psycho jerk-i-tude. You never do this, unless you know your audience both loves you and knows your vehicle like the back of their hand.

Since you asked for pointers, here’s my short list to anyone posting on Piston Slap or some forum where noobs get flamed:

  • Year, Make, Model and relevant options (completed)
  • Mileage (needed)
  • Previous, relevant service history (kinda needed)
  • Engine Codes scanned with your scan tool or the free service at a parts store (mandatory)
  • Research the code here. (definitely appreciated)
  • Ask about your next step on the diagnostic tree after giving us a good slice of the branch.

Without following the above pointers, I can only guess.  So what the hell: there’s a problem with the EGR system, as it happens after warmup.  Maybe it’s a bad sensor/actuator, or some vacuum lines are toast.  Maybe the intake manifold and the EGR need a good cleaning.  But I’ll go with the EGR valve itself, because there’s zero accountability on my side!

Off to you, Best and Brightest!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The Luxury Sedan Fanboi Fallacy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-the-luxury-sedan-fanboi-fallacy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-the-luxury-sedan-fanboi-fallacy/#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:58:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=835145

Earl writes:

Hi Sajeev,

My wife wants me to sell our pristine, time-capsule 90 Cressida for a 4Runner (or similar) because we live in winter-world. I am looking at used 4Runners and the prices are crazy. Typically a rusted 1996-98 with 350-390,000KM will be asking $5,000 – $6,000CDN. I have seen Lexus LS with half the mileage, far better condition and all services done for that price.

What gives? Are 4Runners that good?

Sajeev answers:

Of course used 4Runners aren’t that good! Well, except they are that good for many folks.

Here’s the deal: you, much like me, have a soft spot for classic luxury (or near luxury) sedans. They are so nice, so affordable and give you so much more than any other road going machine.  And the Cressida isn’t a K-car derived New Yorker, it kinda gives the same thoroughly satisfying experience as a newer near luxury sedan. But for pennies on the dollar. An excellent value proposition that everyone should embrace!

The fallacy?  Nobody’s gonna embrace a cheap alternative to an Avalon under warranty. But everyone outside of Manhattan wants a beater truck (or truck based SUV) to carry shit, safely travel through snow, flash floods, non-KOA campgrounds, etc.  As much as my Lincoln-Mercury fanboi self enjoys the occasional compliment on my cars, I get cash offers on my 5-speed Ranger. On a regular basis: the market has spoken, son!

Is the 4Runner worth the money?  Sure, as they earned a reputation for great quality, excellent performance and even superior fit and finish. And the market reflects those opinions.  But that’s another fallacy: the quality gap at the fully depreciated level really depends more on service records. I’ll take a cherry Explorer/Blazer/Durango with a binder full of receipts over a rust bucket 4Runner with zero service history. Odds are both can be had for the same price.

If you are so frickin’ bad-ass enough to roll a choice Cressida, I don’t peg you as a lemming. The tone of your letter also proved the point. But if the sedan has to go to keep your household in balance, buy something other than a 4Runner.   Because, unless your Fanboi blood runs deep, Toyota SUVs and Trucks (especially Tacomas) can be a poor value for their premium asking price.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The S5′s life saving Mercury? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-the-s5s-life-saving-mercury/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-the-s5s-life-saving-mercury/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 12:26:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=832730
Chris writes:

Hi Sajeev,
I have a 2010 Audi S5 with about 45k miles. My local mechanic recommended Mercury Warranty for mechanical breakdown coverage… is $4,700 a good deal for 5 years, or an additional 52k mileage in coverage?

I’m worried that it would be easy to add up to that $ in repairs.

Sajeev asks:

Needing the warranty is a safe bet, good for you. Question is, can you service the S5 at the Audi dealer with that warranty? What’s the deductible? Are loaner cars covered?

Chris answers:

Yes, loaner cars are covered and I can have it serviced anywhere that I want. $100 deductible. It’s their platinum level exclusionary policy…

Sajeev concludes:

Yeah, that’s good stuff: but shop around because someone might sell it for less. So what’s the only problem here? It’s not a factory warranty, with factory customer service.

Will this company dump your AWD high performance coupe after a certain payout threshold? It is possible. But, from what I’ve seen with people far braver than I, the moment your 4+ year old German bahnburner raises the ire of the underwriting department is after the warranty paid for itself.

Perhaps asking an Audi dealer about the chance of an extended warranty is also in order.

And now let’s see what the Best and Brightest add into the mix!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The I’s Have it? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-the-is-have-it/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-the-is-have-it/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 12:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=832618

TTAC Commentator bpscarguy writes:

I need some advice – I am struggling with a decision on what to do with our daily driver. It’s a 2002 Infiniti I35. 140,000 largely trouble-free, easy, no fuss miles. It does everything we want, has some creature comforts, is in very good, clean condition.

The problem is, last month I put on new front brakes to the tune of $245.00. At that time my mechanic told me of some looming items that will likely need addressing in the next month:

  • Leaking head gasket – $535.00
  • Front axle boots – $385.00
  • Front wheel bearing – $620.00 ( I did the other one last year)

This car has been the most trouble-free I have owned, but I also understand that it is getting on in age and will likely start needing more and more attention. I am very tempted to sell it and get something newer (not new) with less miles on it. Likely another Infiniti or possibly an A4 or older E class Mercedes.

Or should I repair it and just chalk this up to bad timing that all of this is happening at once, and therefore making it seem worse than it is?

Thoughts? Many thanks!

Sajeev answers:

Isn’t it funny how one decision can cause a chain reaction? Or-if you choose wisely-not?

Here’s the deal: if you buy a used A4 or E-class (lacking a handy CPO warranty) you’ll regret not dumping a pile of cash on I35 reconditioning.  The I is certainly an older car needing constant frequent attention, but it’s not a money/time sucking Pit of Disappointment. With those nasty German parts costs and labor rates, that perhaps you aren’t considering.

Perhaps one day we can say a 4-10 year old vehicle from this part of the world is a fair proposition for people living in the USA: perhaps time will tell.

A newer Infiniti is the smarter choice: it keeps you in the premium luxo-sedan game and is less likely to punish your wallet than the German alternatives. But newer Infinitis lack the I35′s inbreeding advantages with the Nissan Maxima. With that in mind, dare I suggest a Camry-bred Lexus ES?

Generalizations are all fine and dandy-it’s at the core of the Internet in general and Piston Slap in particular-but what does it boil down to?

It’s about your time value of money.

Is the I35 gonna leave you stranded more often than a newer car?  Likely. Will it be cheaper to fix those unexpected surprises and the normal wear items? Most definitely.  So will you miss the I35 if it goes bye-bye?

If you replace it with an out-of-warranty Benz/Audi, I can almost guarantee it.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Verboseness and The Brief Commute http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/826138/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/826138/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 11:43:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826138

Wade writes:

Hey Sajeev,

This is going to take while to get to the point. For those with logophobia, skip to the last paragraph. Those people who think How I Met Your Mother was too rushed, keep reading. Sajeev, you have to keep reading too. You do say to “spare no details”. (Fantastic. – SM)

I was laid off in early 2011. That was because my specific job was transferred to the plant in Mexico. Due to the Trade Act of 1974, this qualified me for several benefits. The most relevant benefit to my question would be the training program. If you can prove that a training program would increase your employability and that there is a projected demand for workers with that training, the government will pay for it. Since I was laid of in Las Vegas and unemployment was well into the double digits, I thought for a bit and decided to go with an Aviation Maintenance Technician program. There wasn’t an approved program in Nevada at the time, so I found the program at Midland College in Midland Texas.

At the time, my wife and I owned a 2000 BMW 323i and a 2001 Pontiac Aztek. Since housing was scarce in Midland, we decide to purchase a FEMA trailer. Neither of our vehicles could tow such a trailer, so we sold the Aztek and bought a 1989 Ford F250 cheap because the dealer was just about to sent it to auction as he couldn’t manage to sell it. In the week between buying the pickup and loading up the crap we decided we had to keep, I replaced the faulty alternator harness and did a few other simple maintenance tasks. We headed out of Las Vegas heading for Dallas to pick up the trailer and drop our crap off at a storage lot in Midland. All went well until I blew a rear tire in Eastern Arizona. We lost a day since it blew 30 minutes after the nearest tire shop had closed for the day. It even hauled the FEMA trailer with no issues.

I don’t especially like pickups unless they are a 1960 to 1966 Chevrolet. Those truck seem to be the last ones with character. Anymore, you can lop off the portions of a pickup ahead of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels and you can’t tell the difference from one to another. But the F250 had a ZF 5 speed manual and I was starting to be impressed. The more I drove it, the more I liked it. I started school and all was well until a moron in a new Toyota Tundra decided that he had to dart across 4 lanes of traffic to avoid having to wait for the semi in the turn lane to get by. I was hidden from his view on the other side of semi accelerating in lanes the semi was vacating. The F250 was killed on impact and I think I cracked a rib. I did get 3x what I paid for the truck just 4 months earlier.

I took the insurance money and again found an idiot at a dealership. This one had a 1st gen Honda Insight with battery pack issues. He had been told by his buddy at a Honda dealership that it was out of warranty and to replace the pack would be about $5000. I did my own research and found that it was still within the extended service letter age and mileage range and thus paid less then half of blue book. After which I took it down to the local Honda dealership and had them replace the battery at their cost.

I thoroughly enjoyed that little Insight. I wasn’t your typical hybrid driver. Green means go so when it lit up, I nailed the throttle. I only lightly braked for corners. And still I got 40 MPG. Soon I was nearing the end of my training program and started to look for work. Since I didn’t want to work for an standard airline, it seemed that I would end up either in the panhandle of Alaska working on floatplanes or down on the Gulf Coast working on offshore helicopters. Both would require moving the trailer and that Insight just wasn’t going to cut it. My wife had decided that the BMW was too had to climb in and out of on a daily basis and so was had traded it off for a 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara. That also wasn’t going to move the FEMA trailer. So we began to look for pickups, again.

Now back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina had chased out of Long Beach Mississippi and temporarily up to Tunica in my 1984 BMW 528e. My wife’s work on a helpdesk for a large casino chain had offered us shelter in one of the casino hotels there so she could keep working for them. After a short time, they offered her a position in their Memphis office or the casinos in Las Vegas. Having spent a bit of time in the Memphis area, we decided to go for Las Vegas. We had already accumulated more crap then could fit into the BMW, so we went looking for a cheap truck and trailer. A couple days before we left, we found a Ford Bronco II from a dealer who had repo’d it and it was just out of it’s waiting period and eligible for sale. After buying it, found some knucklehead had run the trailer wiring between two metal panels and that had shorted out the brake lights. Got that fixed, bought the last small trailer in Memphis, loaded up out crap and we headed out. In the middle of the night, while going through the mountains of New Mexico in I40, one of the CV joints gave up. That cost us a couple days in a motel as the local mechanic (who was a retired Ford service tech) replaced the driveshaft.

I had to tell you that little flashback so you would under stand this next part.

So having had moved twice using trucks bought within a week of the move, my wife started to push me to find us a truck early so we could take our time getting things fixed before entrusting it with all our worldly possessions including our house. Finding a medium duty truck for sale in West Texas isn’t hard, they make up 50% of the vehicles on the road. The hard part is finding one that doesn’t have over 200,000 miles, half of which weren’t spent on a maintained road. Finally managed it and traded off the Insight for a 2004 Ford F250 with the 6.0 diesel 2 months before the end of classes and the deadline for moving. A month later I had found my 1st job as an A&P. 50 miles away from school and home. 2 months after starting work, I was tired of driving that truck. It was just a cold hunk of steel barrelling down the road at 65 MPH (any faster and the MPGs go down in a hurry). 50 miles in the morning, 50 miles in the afternoon, up and down flat and straight roads. And all it was doing was hauling my bored ass.

I needed to find me something different. I decided I needed something RWD and a manual. Didn’t really matter to me what it was as long as it wasn’t a pickup or an SUV. I’ve had my fill of those. I looked for several months and finally scooped up an RX8 at a local Subaru dealership. They had just taken it in trade. I got an extended warranty on the driveline instead of getting the compressions checked. My mood improved, especially when I ran it up to redline in 1st or 2nd. The previous owner had replaced rotten mufflers with plain exhaust pipe. It makes a glorious cacophony when you rev it and pops so prettily when you let off. The commute instantly became bearable and I really didn’t mind the drive. Even if the only real fun were the 4 or 5 intersections where I turned.

Then the landlord told us she was putting the property up for sale and we began to look for a new place to park the trailer. It took us a couple months, be we ended up finding a nice fenced in space in a mobile home park. It’s right around the corner from my job.

Literally: 0.7 of a mile. I measured it.

I walk or ride my bicycle to work now since .7 of a mile doesn’t even get my RX8 out of fast idle. It gets driven once a week 70 miles (35 miles each way) on the grocery run. Straight down the flat straight road from our little town of 1 independent grocery store to the nearest city where the prices are better and so are the choices. Even when it gets out on the road, it doesn’t get to have any fun.

It hurts me to not drive the RX8. I start my day off with a frown as I push my bicycle out the front gate and by it on my way to work. I have no idea how people can buy a “weekend” or a “summer” car. It sounds like auto abuse to me. Someone should call APS (Automobile Protective Services) on y’all.

So I’ve been thinking. Should I trade it off for an EV? I liked that Insight. A lot. Of my 40 years of life, trading it off is my only real regret. And I can’t really go back to it or one like it. The ICE is required and that’s the whole problem with driving my RX8 to work. The only vehicles that make any sense for me right now are EVs or EVs with range extenders. And EVs would be hard to live with out here in the middle of nowhere. Most of them lack the range to get home from the dealership. I’d have to buy them and ship them home.

I won’t get much for the trade. It’s a perfect 15 footer. It gets exponentially worse as you get closer. There is an exhaust leak at the manifold. Alignment of the left rear is off. The front splitter and under tray have seen better days and need rebuilding. Pretty sure it’s lost a couple apex seals. The transmission whines a bit in certain gears and I think the synchros are ready for replacement (or I’m not as good with a stick as I think I am). Road construction on my previous long commute have all but shattered the windshield. There are cracks on both the inside and outside glass layers and one cuts right through the driver’s vision. It’s need new vacuum valves and ignition coils. Paint chips abound. The sunroof doesn’t work right, I think one of the drive cables has snapped. I should think about getting at least some glass packs to quiet it a bit. Maybe. It’s a nice drivable project car.

It’s going to be hard to part with. In the last 24 year of driving, I’ve already parted with a Sirocco, a couple of BMWs with automatics, an RX7, a 924, a 300ZX, an ex-Fire Department S10 Blazer, and an old 70′s Datsun (I think. I was young, stupid, drove it once and scrapped it after it overheated).

But it would be nice to ride inside a car to work when it’s raining. Or snowing. Or the wind is whipping by at 30 mph. Or it’s 120 outside. Or when it’s 20 outside. Or go to lunch now and then instead of nuking something to eat at my desk.

Finances currently prohibit a new acquisition as that would mean 3 car payments at once.

TL/DR:
My current commute is .7 mile long and that won’t get my RX8 even out of fast idle. Should I trade it in on an EV? I love that RX8. You’ll have to talk me out of it.

Sajeev answers:

Oh my damn, Son!  I sure hope you’re aware of the irony of your lengthy letter and the remarkably short commute behind it.

More to the point, I don’t care!  Care about your ICE, that is.  You admitted the RX-8′s cardinal sin to internal combustion is already experiencing apex seal failure, so who cares if a 0.7 mile commute makes it marginally worse?  For the love of all that’s right in the world, it’s a rotary motor and it’s gonna take a premature dump no matter what!

Keep the RX-8 until it implodes.  But it won’t: you’ve lived quite an intriguing life, and you’ll be ready for a new machine well before the RX-8 forces you into a more reliable, more lifestyle befitting mode of transport. Enjoy the ride, you’ve done pretty damn well so far. And I must say, hat’s off to you, sir!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The Value of The Mid-Life Crisis http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-the-value-of-the-mid-life-crisis/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-the-value-of-the-mid-life-crisis/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 11:59:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826074

TTAC Commentator HEATHROI writes:

A friend–definitely a friend as I would just buy a new mustang and be done with it–is looking at early 00s 911 (probably the 996) as he has entered mid-life crisis mode. He must have the porker. I know there can be some issues with the drive train. I’d like to see if anybody knows a little more about 996 problems what to look out for and how much he might be looking at. Handy, he is not.

Sajeev answers:

We’ve discussed Porsche IMS failure to no end around here. My brother had a rather choice 996 (of the RUF 550 variety) and it spent a fair bit of time in the shop for non-IMS issues, as it was a turbo. The headlight switch, for starters: apparently a common fail point and a good $150 for the part alone. It’s all kinda down hill from there, but this thread does a good job explaining many of the pitfalls to avoid. Or to know in which to price accordingly during negotiation.

Because when its time to sell, his losses will be in the thousands. Perhaps that’s part of the mid-life crisis game…

So I’m not gonna convince anyone to avoid the 996, as depreciation (most haven’t bottomed out yet) the parts replacement cost, insurance, premium fuel, etc is irrelevant.  But buying one without a PPI is pure stupidity of the highest order.  If there ever was a poster child for professional inspection before opening your wallet, the 996 has gotta be it!

Odds are he can find a good 996 with a post IMS-failure engine replacement, binders of repair history and a clean PPI report within his budget.  Of course, if you really want to mess with him, invite him to a local track day to pick on Vettes, a new Mustang GT, a Miata, etc. with that 996.  That’ll make his investment all the more worth it…well, at least for you. And that’s who we are really trying to help here, oh dear reader!

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: A Tale of Collector Car Insurance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-a-tale-of-collector-car-insurance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-a-tale-of-collector-car-insurance/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 11:27:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819241

James writes:

Are there any good insurance options for old, low-value non-collector cars? I’m going to have a pretty good handful of antique-plated vehicles in the next few years, and it seems silly to have regular insurance for stuff that might get driven once or twice a month, but “collector” car insurance is geared towards show-winner ’65 Mustangs and such.

Sajeev answers:

As much as I hate that picture and the publicity stunt behind it, the point is proven:  nobody treats an antique like a late-model machine. Long story short, not all insurance plans are only for guys with ’69 Camaros, ’65 Mustangs or even more valuable antique machinery. But you gotta do your homework.

I’ve discussed this before, and in the interest of not being a complete shill (again), I will just say that I left the big insurance company for that other group mentioned in the hyperlink.

The big insurance company did cover my under-appreciated 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7, but I had to fight for it.  Somehow the conversation went to a 1988 Mustang GT, which did apply.  And that offended me more than I’d like to admit. It is truly amazing how wrapped up us classic car guys get in our stupid machines, but I digress…

My non Fox Mustang was deemed worthy after multiple head-butts with their underwriting department: pulling production numbers (far rarer than a ‘stang, especially the XR-7), photos, receipts (showing resto-modification) to show how they can indeed prove this is a bona-fide classic car. And they capitulated.

When it was time to insure TTAC’s Ford Sierra, I called the same big company and they were miffed.  Supposedly the Sierra couldn’t even be imported to America, much less insured!  After I told them how to do their job (i.e. Google), I found a specialty shop.

So I got an estimate from that classic car specific company (first hyperlink) on the Cougar and the Sierra. I found the process easier and a bit cheaper.  All they wanted were photos, explanation of the car’s modifications/value/usage and never mentioned how it isn’t a Fox Body Mustang. The lady on the phone also complimented me on both cars, especially the brown Sierra she’d never seen before. Which was the complete opposite of the “If This Was a Mustang, Sir!” insult I felt from the other place.

The only problem: I have yet to need the insurance policy. That’s when you actually know when you got good insurance.

So for you, dear reader, I suggest you look at all classic car insurers around, ask your friends in this hobby, and get a quote from ‘em all. Maybe one price is right, maybe one agent hits all the right buttons, but in the end, it will be worth it.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Spicy…or Spicier? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-spicy-or-spicier/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-spicy-or-spicier/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 11:11:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819161

John writes:

Wasup, Sajeev!

I have an 06 R/T Charger and I am contemplating getting a set of Eibach springs for it. What other costs might be associated aside from installation? What other products would I need to purchase, if any?

Thanks for any input,
John

Sajeev answers:

Well son, there was once a time when lowering springs ruined the suspension settings of a half-assed platform: hat tip to my dear Fox Body Ford. Hopefully your German-bred Chrysler product has none of those problems.

Eibach makes two kits for your car: spicy and spicier. That’s because the lower you go, the more heat you gotta handle.

Lowering (or lifting, for that matter) springs alter any vehicle’s suspension geometry.  A wheel alignment is mandatory, and the LX forums seem to agree.  Mild lowering kits (1.5″-ish max) are usually fine with stock dampers, even if a firmer shock compliments a lower and (usually) firmer spring.  More aggressive setups usually need a matched set of dampers to go with, unless you care not about ride degradation.

Sometimes a full suspension kit includes an anti-roll bar upgrade too, which could help the feel and scrub understeer but the reduced left-to-right suspension flexibility isn’t necessarily that fantastic. More jolts don’t translate into faster lap times: do extensive research before you buy.

There’s also the matter of stock wheels: even the R/T might look a little silly with a lower body and boring-ass stock wheels. A bigger rim with a shorter sidewall is needed to “complete the look.” A different offset rim (see hyperlinked thread above) can also help with the inevitable: the meeting of expensive rubber with metal body parts. And brings me to the big problem with aftermarket lowering bits: driving style!

The more you have, the more likely you’ll avoid the punishment of potholes, pavement joints and puddles.  If you live in a place with bad roads, or flooding, you might want to reconsider.  Because nothing’s worse than a sore back, a tired ass and a hydro-locked motor if you treat a lowered car like a normal one.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

See the slippery slope here? What exactly do you want?  Looking lower requires more parts than just springs to complete the look.  That’s the stance or hellaflush look, and it ain’t cheap. Going faster for the road and track? Going full aftermarket may be overkill: I’d try some factory funded engineering perfection via SRT-springs, famously high quality dampers (like Koni, Bilstein) and stickier tires on stock wheels. That won’t make you look any cooler, but you certainly will be.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

 

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Piston Slap: Keeping A Low Profile on Boston Streets? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-keeping-a-low-profile-on-boston-streets/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-keeping-a-low-profile-on-boston-streets/#comments Wed, 07 May 2014 12:27:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=814810

TTAC Commentator slance66 writes:

Sajeev,

The B&B helped me choose a car three or four years ago, and now I’m thinking of its replacement, ahead of time. I bought a CPO 2007 BMW 328xi, which has been nearly flawless to 67k. I only drive 8,000 miles a year with a 3.5 mile commute each way, so it should last a long time. I love the car and do plan to keep it a few more years, but, I don’t know if it will survive the potholes.

I live in the Boston ex-urbs, and six months of the year we have what some might call roads, and others might call random chunks of asphalt in a rough trail like pattern. I can exceed the front suspension travel in the 3 series just on some manhole covers. Hitting actual potholes produces a major crash/slam. The car is good for dodging them, but you can’t miss them all and oncoming traffic both. It’s not the RF tires either, as I have 4th gen versions that are a big improvement.

Since I buy 2-3 year old used cars, I thought I’d ask now what 2013-14 car, trucks, SUVs would best equipped to survive roads like this? Gas mileage matters a little, so a V8 half ton might be off my list, but otherwise I’m open to most anything if it has four doors, heated seats, is reliable and isn’t smaller than the BMW. Crossovers might fit, but while my wife’s used RX350 feels better on these roads, it’s cost us two bearings and two struts, so durability is a factor in my thinking. Thought the B&B would know what vehicles can really absorb this punishment and not punish the driver. No, not a Panther.

Sajeev answers:

I’ve been to Boston a coupla times, I can see your concern.  That said, no Panther?  No truck?  Really?

Odds are your BMW will not survive Boston without cratering your wallet: to the tune of new lower control arms, struts, strut mounts(?) miscellaneous bushings and who knows what else. If you like the BMW, by all means, replace the worn suspension bits as they fail.  If not…

Well, get over the German tuned suspension for something more Third World friendly.  Seriously, how can you not want a Grand Marquis now? Fine. I can imagine the cold, Panther Love-less world you clearly live in.

And while I’d never live in such a sad place, I’d recommend a Panther-Like world.  A car that’s had a good track record (recently) for cost-effective suspension engineering, proven in fleets of some sort.  Not cop cars, not limos…maybe rental cars.  Maybe a Camry LE with the big sidewalls on 16″ wheels.  Maybe any CUV with the base wheels, with the most amount of sidewall you can find. ZOMG I CAN NO HAZ A RENTAL CAR AFTER MY BEEEMER!

Long story short: remember when all cars came with these things called tires? Their rubber to metal wheel ratio was definitely more Boston-friendly.  I recommend finding a vehicle with more sidewall and a reputation for a more robust suspension.  Even if it isn’t a Panther.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Weather The Storm, Trooper! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-weather-the-storm-trooper/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-weather-the-storm-trooper/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 12:03:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=814746

Alex writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have recently come into possession of a 1994 Isuzu Trooper (pictured above). 158k, One owner, with good service history until 100k. After that the (affluent) previous owner basically used it as a Home Depot Hauler for 7+ years so besides oil changes and tires, not much was done. That’s fine by me as the truck cost $1600 and it is pretty great running shape.

However, I have noticed a few things that may need attention, or are just plain bothering me. Unfortunately Isuzu forums are pretty sparse due to the waning popularity of these trucks…if you can help me out that would be wonderful.

1. The timing belt was done once at 60k and its gone 98k on it. I heard somewhere the Isuzu timing belt maintenance was switched to every 100k? I think this is a non interference engine, do you think I can squeeze 120k out of the timing belt?

2. I think the Trooper is on the original clutch (Previous owner things he may have changed it but doesn’t remember and doesn’t have documentation. The clutch feels fine however.

3. The trooper has a squeal that is heard when driving slowly (heard when near walls since the sound bounces.) This squeal is heard even when brakes are not pressed. My father in law jacked up the car from the rear and it seems that when the rear wheels turn, there is a rotational squeal every half turn or so. It seems to be coming from the area where the drive shaft meets the rear differential, right after the U-joint. If I go faster than 10 mph you cant hear it, but you can hear it when driving slowly. Maybe some tired seals or something caught in mechanical? Doesn’t affect drive-ability at all.

4. Ripped CV boot in the front driver side. Can i drive it till it starts to creak or is it worth replacing with a Quick-Boot split CV boot from autozone?

Sajeev answers:

Troopers are far from my forte, but perhaps you’ll trade it in for a Crown Vic we can give such a cool and obscure ride a group hug via this esteemed column.

So let’s do it, to it:

  1. A thread from Planet Isuzoo suggests your 6VD1 3.2 SOHC V6 (correct?) is not an interference motor. Probably. But if there’s any doubt, there is no doubt: at your mileage, the Trooper’s had two timing belt changes and the next one is coming up soon. Soon-ish. Can you extend the service intervals?  Is it worth the risk? Don’t be a tight wad: FIX IT as per owner’s manual recommendation.**
  2. Clutches aren’t like timing chains: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, son!
  3. Squeals are usually the realm of slipping belts. This sounds like a “squeak” from a bad bearing. If it isn’t an easy fix, get a replacement assembly from a junkyard with a warranty.  It’s easier to swap axles than diagnose an internal problem. Especially if you aren’t rear axle savvy, don’t learn this particular trade on your own ride.
  4. I’ve never used quick boots before, the big concern is that a CV joint with a ripped boot already has grease contaminated with dirt.  Perhaps the quick boot (when installed correctly) can dramatically increase the life of the CV joint.  Or, if you bought it with a ripped boot, perhaps not. Only you can make an educated guess here, best of luck with that.

**Or sell it and buy the Ford/Chevy SUV equivalent and enjoy a bulletproof timing chain and easy repairs for the rest of your life.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom: 

This is a good time to mention that owning such an obscure machine means one must, absolutely must, own a set of factory shop manuals.  Hell, I bought the FoMoCo ones for my British Ford Sierra before it even landed in the Lone Star State. Even though it’s kinda like a Merkur XR4Ti, it’s different enough to justify the cost of buying the proper manual.

 

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/piston-slap-weather-the-storm-trooper/feed/ 30 Piston Slap: High Caliber Aftermarket Stoppers? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-high-caliber-aftermarket-stoppers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-high-caliber-aftermarket-stoppers/#comments Wed, 30 Apr 2014 12:13:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=811186

John writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’ve had a 2009 Dodge Caliber SRT4 for a few years and it’s coming up to its first all-around brake job at 50,000 miles / 80,000 km (I drive like a granny). I work at a dealership (different brand) but can get parts at a bit of a discount. Still, OEM brakes + pads on this thing are $980+tax Canadian. From what I’ve seen I can get aftermarket ones for a quarter of that. One of the mechanics here suggests I put on OEM pads and aftermarket discs.

What do you recommend? Any good aftermarket manufacturers who meet or exceed OEM standards? I know with this car you’ve got the weird fake differential that uses braking to adjust for wheel slip, would non-OEMs eff this up? When I private sale this next year, will having aftermarket brakes effect the resale value with the type of people who buy these cars?

The car has been surprisingly reliable, but I’m only doing 8,000km a year. Debating getting employee pricing on something more…Swedish.

Any advice would be appreciated!

Sajeev answers:

I’d be shocked if Chrysler makes the brake bits that rest in their branded boxes.  Brakes, like many other parts, are usually made to OEM specifications by a third party supplier. Which is great, except when it’s not. A few thoughts lifted directly from my experiences:

  • Brake pads: high quality ceramic street pads from any parts store (i.e. not the cheapest) stop, leave similar amounts of dust and be silent like an OEM pad.  Plus, if you know a bit more about materials, you can choose an aftermarket pad’s composition (organic, ceramic, semi-metallic, full metallic, etc) to tune the brakes to your particular needs.  I prefer carbon metallic pads, as I’m easy on the brakes (Houston is flat, and metallics heat up quickly here) and they do an amazing job when I do need them.  If not, maybe ceramics are more your speed, so to speak.
  • Brake Rotors:  Even though the dudes at the parts counter swear that the pricer USA-made rotors are better,  I’ve had amazingly good luck with the cheapest, Chinese-made stuff. Perhaps it’s partially because of a friend that tows for a living; he mentioned they are all the same, too.  IMO, the USA made stuff has nicer machining around the hub, but that’s about it.
  • Brake Rotors II: Avoid the ricey aftermarket slotted/drilled rotors (crack prone) and stick with the conventionally vented units.  High Performance cars may have factory drilled/slotted rotors, and if so, stick with OEM just to be safe.

With this in mind, let’s answer your questions:

 1) What do you recommend?

Your car’s rear brakes are like any other Caliber, so I’d recommend any high quality ceramic pad on a cheap replacement rotor. Since the fronts are lifted from the Chrysler LX cars, get a cheap LX rotor and your choice of pad.  Me personally?  Get semi-metallic (carbon metallic) pads all around, especially since a common upgrade for the SRT-4 appears to be the same semi-metallic pad used on the LX Cop Cars.

2) Any good aftermarket manufacturers who meet or exceed OEM standards?

I’m not interested in endorsing one big name pad manufacturer over another for pads. They are all good, and I have yet to regret owning cheap rotors.

3) I know with this car you’ve got the weird fake differential that uses braking to adjust for wheel slip, would non-OEMs eff this up?

I seriously doubt it. But that’s a question for the forums: do some homework, don’t listen to me.

4) When I private sale this next year, will having aftermarket brakes effect the resale value with the type of people who buy these cars?

I think saying that you upgraded to semi metallic pads like the LX Cop Car is a huge plus given the intended buyer.  So maybe you should listen to me.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: The Straw that Broke the Audi’s Back? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-audi-dsgs-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-audi-dsgs-back/#comments Mon, 28 Apr 2014 12:31:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=811074

Wiley writes:

Sajeev:

I own a 2006 Audi A3 2.0T with the DSG dual clutch gearbox. I really like the car, and my plan had been to keep it for a long time. As the original owner I’ve racked up nearly 125,000 miles. I’ve scrupulously kept up with the maintenance, and service on the car, though those 125,000 miles haven’t been exactly trouble-free.

While the car has generally been running well, there are storm clouds looming: The transmission is starting to misbehave a bit, and has slipped a couple of times in the past thousand miles. I’ve read that this could be symptomatic of issues with the mechatronic unit on the early Audi DSG transmissions, and that I should expect to pay anywhere from $3K-$5K to address this.

Given that the car is probably only worth $5K or so, should I ditch the car now before I have to do the transmission work? I’d rather not buy another car at the moment, as I don’t see any really interesting replacement for the A3 today (including the new A3).

Thanks,
Wiley

Sajeev answers:

Unlike last week’s Hybrid Lexus battery pack issue, there’s a good case to dump an 8-year-old DSG Audi for newer metal.  And while this ride is one of the most well-rounded, thoughtfully designed vehicles on the market…it’ll need copious amounts of cash infused into the ownership experience. Relative to other sub-10 grand machines, that is!

Considering your fourth sentence, you already know this is coming. So here’s the rest of your justification, son.

Your ride is fodder for someone able to dedicate hours/days to fix Audis on the cheap, either for personal use or for resale.  Think of a Steve Lang type with more interest in self torture. He/she can repair or replace DSG units for less than $3-5 large. Odds are they have a VAG-COM, too.

My advice?  Get something (anything) else from Japan or the USA, as their parts/labor/quality is far more cost effective for a long term owner such as yourself. Or perhaps South Korea, as Mr. Schreyer has done quite the fantastic job adding teutonic flair to practical and fun(ish) Korean iron.

Quite frankly, I see you test driving a new KIA Soul and kinda totally loving it.  And it’s gonna love you back for the next 10+ years.

Or start leasing Audis for short term pleasure. That’ll work too.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: The Straw that broke the Hybrid’s Back? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-hybrids-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-hybrids-back/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=805330

Marc writes:

Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere.

I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair.

My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple Toyota and Lexus dealers have stated to me, that they have seen few hybrids if any needing replacement batteries yet some Prius’ have been on the road for over 10 years but there doesn’t seem to be much said about the expected life of the battery packs. My battery warranty just expired. Is it time to trade it in to avoid the eventual high battery replacement cost or am I worrying about a problem that could be many years down the road.

Sajeev asks:

Hi there. Where do you live and how many electronic items on the cat do you regularly run? (A/C, stereo, heated seat, etc.)

Marc replies:

I live in Southern California. The AC is almost always on, music always on, NAV always on.

Sajeev concludes:

The series has indeed covered hybrid battery fail, Toyotas in particular.  Your location’s warm climate shall be easy on hybrid batteries, not taxing them with a ton of power robbing heater load. Or, to a lesser extent, the A/C load of hotter parts of the country.  But your battery will fail, and there are companies willing to help.

If you want the help.

Considering the lack of needed repairs (original brakes? Impressive!) on this RX, selling it while the going is good is quite logical. If you want a new vehicle! If not, find a hybrid battery vendor, get a brake job, fluid changes, etc. that will eventually be needed.

All this work could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, yet none of it scares me like a TDI+DSG Volkswagen product that’s out of warranty.  This stuff just needs to happen.  I’d wager it’s worth it, if you like the RX and wouldn’t want to pay for a new vehicle. Which is always gonna be your call, son.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The Fuel Harbinger of Fusion Steering Fail? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-fuel-harbringer-of-fusion-steering-fail/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-fuel-harbringer-of-fusion-steering-fail/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:35:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=805074

TTAC commentator Bobby Flashpants writes:

Howdy Sajeev,

I have an unique issue with my 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. I’ve posted about it at fordfusionforum.com, and no one so far has heard of anyone with the same issue. Here’s the link for the post, and the text is reproduced (and edited to remove site-specific context) below:

I’ve got a 2010 Fusion Hybrid that’s about 40 miles from hitting 100K. I purchased it used 2 years ago with 69K miles on it. (note – this is as of 2/5/14) Over the last 6 months, I’ve had the issues with the “Service Power Steering NOW” and “Service Advancetrac” warning lights, and the associated deactivation of the electric power steering system. I’ve seen this issue reported before, and I know I’m not the only one who has encountered it.

I’ve had this failure occur 3 times now, and have had the system reset each time – once at a Ford dealer, once at an independent repair shop, and once at a tire center (who claimed that they couldn’t figure out how to do it, but the system was functioning normally again when I started it up to leave). Both the dealer and the Indy shop recommended replacing the steering rack as the only permanent solution, each estimating ~$1500 for the job (which lines up with what others have reported when confronted with this issue).

Here’s the thing, though – after seeing this occur so many times, I’ve noticed that the failures only occur when the fuel level is below 1/4 tank. As long as I fill up when I’m between 1/2 and 1/4 quarter tank, the steering and stability control continues to function normally. I’ve not seen anyone else report this type of correlation?

In the interest of full disclosure, the Carfax showed that my Fusion had been in a fender bender under the original owner, and we had an incident of hitting a curb and a mailbox that required a new wheel hub/bearing, rim, tire, and windshield.

I’m in a pretty small town in GA, with only one Ford dealer. The Indy shop I normally use is usually pretty good (if not particularly cheap compared to dealer rates), so before I make the trek to Atlanta or Columbus for 4th opinions, I wonder if you or any of the B&B have any insight on a cheaper solution for a system that doesn’t appear to really be broken.

Thanks! I’m a long-time TTAC lurker after following Murilee over from Jalopnik, and have soaked up the power of your Panther Love for a couple years now. My best to you and the crew!

Sajeev answers:

Well I’m glad you’ve listened to me, so you know you must sell this formerly wrecked Fusion and for a 2011 fleet-special Crown Vic. Is there any other alternative?

If you must live in the real world, a place I normally dislike, I suggest that opinion from a Ford dealer in a bigger town. Odds are your front suspension’s damage created the steering rack’s problem.  If the damage required a new front hub, wheel and (something as shockingly far away as the) windshield, odds are the steering rack is waaaay out of spec.

Is it possible that a fuel vapor canister’s processor or low fuel warning relay is controlled by the same module that talks to the power steering system? Calling that a stretch is a rather large understatement, even considering the body damage. The steering’s physical damage is more logical.

Let’s hope people with training on modern Fords can leverage their skills, training materials and connections to Dearborn to solve this one. My money’s on a new steering rack fixing the problem. No way did it emerge unscathed when the wheel busted and the windshield cracked.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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