Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: World's Most Notorious Automotive Technologies, Bin One
Not wanting to let the proverbial grass grow under my feet, I figured now was as good a time as any to proceed with the “rant” threatened of while in the midst of my “Of Honda’s and Miracles” piece. While I was contemplating said rant, it also seemed like a good time to make a quasi-collection of additional rage against other automotive technologies that, over the years, I’ve found to be considerably more than a useless nuisance.
In the interests of clarity and brevity, I limited the scope to designs currently being used by virtually ALL auto manufacturers. I may, in the future, if overcome by intense feelings of either abstract nostalgia or acute vindictiveness, single out certain “rogue” designs from the past and present. I will leave all of the Why’s and Wherefores to Conspiracy Theorists. Now…TO THE BIN!
The Drum Brake
Ever since my High School Auto Shop days, I’ve tried to resolve my intense dislikes for all things Drum.
Yes, of course I learned to use the tools effectively, really mastering my service technique; and I believe I have been able to get the most of whatever this design has to offer on any vehicle passing through my repair bay. I even went so far as to drive my restored 1967 Ram-Air Stick Shifted Pontiac Firebird 400 on the freeways of Los Angeles, and, on top of that, on a couple of spirited excursions up U.S. Highway 1 to the Monterey Historic car weekend—with these spiteful mechanisms attached to ALL FOUR wheels, no less!
The act of stopping that all-go-and-no-slow semIROCket was definitely one of the white-knuckle experiences of my life! At some point, though, the two-to-three seconds of waffley and (at best) only moderate stopping power they provided before fading into oblivion, no longer bore repeating. I installed a complete power front disc system scavenged from a ’72 Nova (back when they could be found at the local Pick-Ure-Part), and never had to look back at what I’d just run over!
I never did install a rear disc setup on that car, because the rear suspension wasn’t really up to the speeds I’d have been able to maintain with the additional “anchor” they would have provided. I don’t think the CHP would have been “up”, either! Could have been fun for a while, though.
So, at any rate, it would have to be said that I have given drum brakes a fair shake—maybe even going above and beyond the call of duty.
I have concluded that—purely from a PERFORMANCE standpoint—while a four-wheel drum brake setup is completely unacceptable (eventually, all auto manufacturers had to admit this), a front disc/rear drum setup did, in fact work adequately (within civilian boundaries) on my ‘bird—and, more importantly, for many of my customers. When it comes to braking systems, though, I’d really much prefer “great” over “adequate” for my use, since there are those times when only great truly gets the job done.
From a MAINTAINANCE standpoint, however, the rear drum system is ultimately inadequate, as it requires a lot more time and attention than a rear disc system.
How about so-called self-adjusters that generally DON’T (enough), even when all else is cleaned, lubed, set and functioning correctly? Or the required frequent drum removal to clean out trapped lining “dust”. And God help you if you have to remove a drum that has experienced “metal-to-metal” contact for some time (As luck will usually have it, the self-adjusters will, in this case, work well enough to extensively advance the process, effectively trapping the drum around the “imbedded” brake shoes. To make matters worse (if Murphy’s Law is in full effect) there will be no adjuster access ports in the backing plate, so the shoes can’t be retracted; meaning that Brute Force and Ignorance, or BFI, will have to be resorted to in order to remove the drum!).
In the end, when all is repaired and fully functional, you’re still left with an inefficient, complex and maintenance-intensive contraption. Egregious, undoubtedly!
The Interference Engine
Wherein engine damage occurs in the event that the camshaft and crankshaft become sufficiently out-of-synch with each other due to drive system (either belt or chain) failure.
This reaction is not limited to Overhead Cam belt-driven systems, but it happens more frequently with them.
The Mother of All Interference Engine Damage Cases has to be any belt-driven “Blue Propeller” creation. To say that these engines could be “damaged” with the advent of belt failure would be like saying you could be “injured” if your parachute fails to deploy while engaging in Skydiving!
The irresistible force of the crankshaft’s rotating mass behind the connecting rods and pistons, meets the immovable object in the form of valves and rocker arms made of some incredibly hard stuff, culminating in what is virtually an EXPLOSION within the engine. The resulting damage has to be seen to be believed: BROKEN pistons, BENT connecting rods, SCORED cylinder walls, BROKEN cylinder heads (from extreme lateral impact on rocker shafts, transmitted through the valvetrain)—almost a complete annihilation of the engine!
The fact that all of this mechanical carnage can be avoided if engineers just opt to incorporate a “freewheeling” engine design certainly gives me pause for contemplation.
I’ve seen engines of all stripes, from the economy-oriented to the high-performance sporting this consumer and technician-friendly design; so it doesn’t in any way appear to be purpose-exclusive.
All things considered, the interference design does indeed seem to have a reason to be… which is what qualifies it for entry into World’s Most Notorious Automotive Technologies.
Bin One being investigated, please return next week for Bin Two.
Phil Coconis is the owner of a West Coast independent auto repair shop.
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