Tag Archives: Car Repair

Dealerships (and Electric Cars) Suck: Part 2

This is an impromptu continuation of this post and is a post I didn’t think a continuation was necessary for. But, life happens, you’re aware of that. Shit happens, plans change, things go to hell, etc. And I don’t know why I ever expect anything to work out as planned. A friend of mine likes to expect the worst because then you’ll either be prepared or pleasantly surprised; I think she might be onto something. Damn me for being optimistic…

The plan today was to drive the twenty miles to nearby Belvidere, Illinois (a shithole I despise going to for any reason) to pick my shitty Ford Focus EV up from the dealership. It was fixed, or more precisely as they said, “We’ve fixed everything that could be wrong with it, *implied shrug over the phone*, so you can pick it up tomorrow.” We drove there, I paid the $427 for the repairs, and walk to car in the parking lot. I start it and everything looks alright beside the twenty-one mile range left on the car; they didn’t even bother to charge the thing! It’s about fifteen miles to our house so to be safe I planned to charge it on the way home. “Looks like I’m stopping at the park on the way,” I texted my wife. (A park five miles from out house sports two EV chargers.) Whatever. I’d make it work.

About halfway home on East State Street (the busiest damn street in Rockford: a big three lane road in both directions) the car popped the infamous”Stop Safely Now” warning. I was stopped at a traffic light — in the middle lane nonetheless — so there wasn’t much choice of where to stop safely. The car wouldn’t let me drive it anywhere else so I sat there in heavy traffic stranded in the middle of the tree lanes.

THIS IS GOING TO BE MY MOST USED IMAGE

Luckily, I trained for emergencies while learning to fly and feel confident in my ability to not panic and deal with the situation, so frustratedly turned on the emergency flashers and sighed. Here I am, I am safe, and what do I do now? Kinda checked the right and left lanes of traffic and wondered what the hell my options were. Call a tow truck? Push the car to the side when traffic cleared? Who the hell knew. Either way I was pissed and stuck in the middle of the road with a dead car.

Another high-quality image from r/THE_PACK, my most favoritest subreddit. AROOO MFER LET’S CRANK THE HOGS

I tried the typical “shut-if-off-and-turn-it-back-on” trick that is standard for troubleshooting anything and luckily IT worked. I waited until traffic was clear to the right and zipped into a parking lot. Old Chicago if you’re really curious. I probably should’ve went in and had a few beers to really think about this issues.

I pulled out my phone and called the dealership and one of the ladies at the desk answered. “How can I help you?” she asked.

“Yeah, can I talk to someone in the maintenance department?”

“Sure, is this involving an appointment or an issue with your vehicle?”

“Well, I picked my car up twenty minutes ago and it died on me halfway home…”

“Oh…I’ll transfer you then.”

“Thaaaaaaanks.”

Luckily Mike, the guy who gave me my keys twenty minutes earlier, answered the transfer. This was also a fun conversation.

“Hello, this is Mike, how can I help you?”

“Hey, this is Jeremy, the guy who just picked up the Ford Focus like twenty minutes ago. Uh, I made it about halfway home and it popped another “Stop Safely Now” warning in the middle of State Street and I couldn’t move the car at all. Luckily, I shut the car off and turned it on and it allowed me to drive but I mean I don’t want it to happen again where I need to have it towed. Should I just drop it back off to you guys?”

“Hmm…so it wouldn’t let you drive it at all?”

“No, not until I restarted it.”

“…”

“…”

“Yeah, it could do that again, huh?”

“Yeah, I have no idea what caused it. It seemed really random.”

“Well, that’s not normal. I’d say bring it back in and I’ll have a technician look at in on Monday.”

Since range wasn’t an issue anymore (because who gives a fuck if they get an EV with a dead battery) I drove like a maniac back to the dealership. I parked the car, sulked into the place, and handed my key back to them. Chris, the guy who fixed my car a few other times, seemed genuinely upset that I hauled it back twenty minutes after I had picked it up. That dude knew what he was doing; how about he fixes my car this time? Andy, the guy who handled my shit this time, apparently didn’t know what the fuck he was doing.

On the ride home with my wife, I received a call from the dealership. Already? I thought. It was one of the desk girls again asking how the service was that I received. Was everything okay with the car? So it was very satisfying to just monotone-plop out a reply of “Yeah, actually the car just died like thirty minutes ago and I dropped it back off. So, yeah…” Her reply went something like, “Oh! Well…we’ll get in touch with the service department and talk with them.” Yeah. Fuck you guys.

So now it’s a wait until Monday to hear anything about it, at the very least. It could take longer, who knows. Obviously, my entire weekend is shot now because this was the singular positive thing I was looking forward to to jumpstart my life. I’d get my car back, it’d be fixed, and I could get on with the other issues in my life, move onto bigger and more difficult things if you will. Maybe start flying again. Nope! Fuck you, Jeremy: life fucks you again. Que The Big Lebowski: “You see what happens?! You see what happens, Larry?! See what happens? This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass, Larry!”

That rant wasn’t very much called for, but, still. I don’t even know. I keep thinking this entire car purchase years ago was a mistake. Some flawed thought of me trying to move into the future and be part of the leading wave of brave electric car owners. Those who walk the path before others comfortably take it up. I envision us as the covered-wagon folks traveling to California in search of gold in the 1800s. Pioneers and such leading all others. Taking risks. Being brave. Etc. I remember as a kid in like 1996 telling my grandmother that I’d own an electric car because they didn’t pollute as much, and when I bought the car I kinda remembered that moment. Yeah, I actually accomplished one of those wild childhood dreams somehow. I did it: I was an electric car owner for real! Wow!

But now? Mistake. The damn thing was a mistake. I bought the cheapest piece of shit EV — a compliance car by Ford, let’s recall the popular acronym Found On Road Dead — and I was paying out of the ass in repairs. But don’t EVs not have any moving parts? What wears out? What can wear out? Why is it so hard to repair them? That was my initial thought but this thing has been repaired more than the damn 1998 Cavalier I owned for more than a decade. Why? How? Wasn’t I doing the right thing? Wasn’t I saving so much money in gas? Wasn’t I cutting down on carbon emissions? Maybe, but at what cost to my own bank account and well-being? Maybe it’s just easier and cheaper to drive a shitty gas car and deal with the problems and upkeep with that.

So I’m feeling pretty beaten down again and heavily drinking because I really don’t care anymore. Give me some chemicals to futilely pick me up. It’s going to be another one of those weekends I can already tell…

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Dealerships (and Electric Cars) Suck: Part 1

I have about two hours until I leave for work and I’m basically sitting next to my phone waiting and hoping for a phone call from the Ford dealership. They’ve had my car for over three weeks now, and as far as I know, they’re only changing the regular 12 Volt battery in it. That’s it. Three weeks to change a 12 Volt car battery. How much will this cost me? About $310 they said. For a 12 Volt car battery. Some readers might not know much about cars, but this is one of the easiest and cheapest repairs someone can do on a car. It’s also something that routinely wears out over the years, so any long-term owner of a car should be familiar with changing a dead battery.

Sadly, I didn’t have much of a choice here. I own a 2013 Ford Focus Electric which is a fully electric vehicle. I had a dedicated blog for it to enlighten anyone curious about vehicle electric ownership to the pros and cons of the things although I have slacked off and haven’t written anything over there for over a year. But if you’re curious, please check it out. Despite loving the car for its endless list of perks over a gas car, it does have one glaring flaw for me: I can’t really fix anything on it.

The car has much commonality between the stock Focuses (Foci?), mostly the mechanical bits like breaks, shocks, tie rod ends, etc, but everything else is unique to it being an electric vehicle (EV). If anything goes wrong here, I’m pretty fucked and a tow to the dealership is required. Making this even worse for me is the fact that the car doesn’t really tell you what is wrong with it. Given a severe enough problem the computer in the car won’t let it drive and only flashes a “Stop Safely Now” warning. Here’s a picture of the damn thing.

It’d be nice if the “Stop Safely Now” warning only appeared in dire situations (which it did last time when the main drive battery had a cooling issues and a voltage leak) but this time, after having it towed 20 miles away to the nearest Ford Electric Certified Repair Dealership…) the only thing they could find wrong with it was the damn 12 Volt battery. The battery I could’ve replaced by literally walking down to Farm and Fleet and buying an $80 replacement. And the labor cost for me? Nothing. I work for free if it’s something I’m doing. So when they called and quoted me $310 for a battery I was pretty pissed — that’s all that’s wrong with my car? — but didn’t have much choice. I suppose I could have it towed back home (and probably have to pay for that), replaced the battery, and hoped it worked with the finicky Ford Focus EV computer, but it was already there, so fuck it, sure. Change the battery.

To tie this back to the rant two paragraphs ago: the Focus Electric also shares the basic 12 Volt based system with the rest of the Foci meaning I could’ve totally pulled of this repair on my own had I known this was the issue at hand.

I wish the car would tell me more. I like to compare them to airplanes where the plane loves to tell you exactly what’s wrong with it. There’s all sorts of gauges and information at your fingertips — oil pressure, oil temperature, manifold pressure, RPMs, fuel flow, amperage to the battery, resettable circuit breakers, a battery switch, an alternator switch, fuel valves and cutoff switches — all sorts of shit you need to troubleshoot any issues. And in a car? Speed, RPMs, coolant temperature, a “battery light,” and a “check engine light,” that’s it. The “check engine” and “battery light” especially can mean issues with literally a hundred problems the car could have.

And the EV is even worse than a gas car. A gas car will still let you drive it if something is wrong and doesn’t have a computer to tell you “Nope, car is broken. Fix it please. Oh, what’s actually wrong with it? Naw, I can’t tell you that. You don’t work for Ford.” I’m sure newer gas cars have shit like this as well, but for now the clunkers I drive (the 1997 Saturn and the 2006 Civic) are champs and let you drive them no matter what. This lets you troubleshoot and isolate the real issue, key for a DIYer such as myself.

Obviously, this all comes down to money hidden under the guise of “safety.” Maybe I’m cynical, but doesn’t it make sense for Ford (or any other massive car company) to basically force you to go to a dealership to get your car fixed? DIYers don’t make them money, and only the schmucks who have no choice but to haul their cars to them feed the capitalistic monster. I imagine if you really got a Ford executive into a room and forced him to answer why they don’t make the cars easier for the DIYer to troubleshoot he’d probably say something like, “Well, we don’t want people to repair their cars in an unsafe way! They and their families and kids and mothers need to ride around in a vehicle that has been safely repaired by our Certified Ford Technicians using all their fancy tools and procedures to properly fix the car.” But, I’d then ask him, “Motherfucker, how do you install a 12 Volt battery unsafely? How can you possibly fuck up installing brake pads? Oil changes? I need a certified repair technician to unscrew a bolt and an oil filter?” To which he’d simply send me to the Ford PR department for any further questions/comments.

I hate inefficiency. I hate bloat. I hate things that don’t make any sense. I like to have a central authority that I can call for information. Ford (and every other car company) is so damn detached from their dealerships that there seems to be no accountability to anything. I can’t call Ford, the company that actually built my car, and really bitch about anything because they’d just say the dealership is in charge of any repairs and to call them. The car’s manual simply says for every issue to “contact your Ford Dealership.” If one dealership fucks you over, you have to go to another one, and that seems to be the only choice you have. And if that one fucks you over? Hell if I know. Like Ford builds the cars and if something goes wrong you have to wrangle warranty information with the dealership and it’s so damn inefficient, a hassle, and expensive, let’s not forget expensive! It reminds me of the medical system: people not calling you back; people not emailing or faxing shit; just expense and costs everywhere because you the consumer have to support some bloated system above everything; no one you can really talk to without being referred to another department or given another phone number to call; legal words tossed at you in every piece of paperwork you see; total bureaucracy and that’s about it I guess.

So I suppose that rants over. I figured I might as well make a blog post about it.

Note: APPARENTLY THERE IS A SECOND PART TO THIS POST. Check it out if you’re interested.

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Changing Brakes Sucks: A DIY Guide

Our (shitty) Dodge Caravan has an awful sound coming from the right rear tire. It only happens when you push on the brakes and is a horrific grinding sound. I don’t even need to look to know what it is; the brake pad is totally gone and the metal that the pad is attached to is grinding the fuck up against the brake rotor. This isn’t good and if you go long enough without fixing the problem you can fuck the brake rotor up. And those things are a bit more expensive (and more of a hassle) to replace compared to brake pads.  Even if this wasn’t the case, any sane person would want to fix the brakes sooner rather than later just because it sounds so horrific. You almost don’t want to push on the brakes because of the dreaded sound it’ll make.

We also have an impending winter storm here in northern Illinois. Most forecasts say we’ll get nearly a foot of snow, or at least 8 inches, and that isn’t fun at all. I love to procrastinate as long as I can, but shit, the idea of changing brakes on Sunday or Monday after a foot of snow has fallen sounds terrible. It’ll probably be cold, windy, and all around uncomfortable. If you’ve ever worked on a car before you already know it’s uncomfortable enough: no need to make it worse by doing it in a snow drift.

Better get my ass outside and knock that out. I’ll write a brake changing guide for everyone so they can 1. understand how to change their own brakes and 2. understand the hell I went through.

Find the Correct Parts

First off, you need to find brake pads to actually install. Head down to an Autozone or Advance Auto Parts (or whatever auto parts store you have in your location) and tell them the year, make, and model of your vehicle. Pray to whatever higher power you believe in that the person serving you isn’t braindead and gives you the correct parts. It’s not fun to rip the car apart and then realize that the brake pads aren’t the correct ones. Better have a spare car available if that happens, otherwise you need to put the tire back on, exchange the wrong parts for the correct ones, and then try again if you still have any willpower left.

Bonus points if you can see your brakes through the rim. Take a new one out of the box and see if they’re at least vaguely similar. You can do this is the auto store parking lot.

Jack the Vehicle Up

Find a suitable location to put a jack under the car and bring the tire off the ground. Pray to God that your car isn’t so damn rusty that jacking the car up starts to crack the fucking metal.

Loosen the Lug Nuts

They’re probably so damn tight that you should’ve loosened them before jacking the vehicle off the ground. Shit.

Put Vehicle Back Down, NOW Loosen the Lug Nuts

Now we’re back on track with only a minor fuck up. Get a big fucking wrench or tire iron out and loosen those damn lug nuts. Don’t take them completely off because it having the wheel not attached is a bad idea, but break them loose.

Jack Vehicle Off the Ground (Again)

Just like before. You’re really good at this part now.

Kick the Shit Out of the Tire/Rim to Get It to Come off

If it’s been awhile since you’ve removed a tire (which is probably true if the brake pads are fucking non-existent) it’ll probably be somewhat rusted to the hub itself. So go to town on the thing and hope you don’t injure your foot by kicking it too violently, or have the car fall off the jack. You might have to get creative with the tire iron/pry bar to get it off. If using this technique, do not fuck up the brake caliper!

Look at Stuff

Take a look at the brake caliper and notice what silly design choices your automaker made when designing the car. Does the caliper itself swing up? If so you only need to remove a single bolt. Do you need to remove both bolts and remove the caliper entirely to get the pads? Whatever the case, take a good look, hate yourself and dread the bullshit you’re about to put yourself through.

Get Tools to Remove the Caliper

Take a guess about what you need to take the caliper off, find the tools, and try it. It won’t be the correct socket. Some are regular bolts, metric or imperial (yeah good luck!), some are Allen heads, and some fucking idiot that designed the Chevy Cavalier decided to use Torx Bolts. No fucking joke. This step will take like twenty minutes and I hope your toolbox is either portable/nearby and filled with everything imaginable.

Optional: Go Buy the Correct Tools

If you don’t stock Torx bits in your toolbox, good luck, because you’ll probably have to go buy a set just for this one job. Hope that the stores around you aren’t far away or closed.

Take Caliper Off

Once you get the caliper bolts off, you take the caliper off. As with everything involving cars this is easier said than done depending on what shit you need to deal with. Grab the pry bar/tire iron and start ripping away on the damn thing until it eventually comes off.

Remove and Examine the Brake Pads

Next, you take the old brake pads off. Depending on the design you might be able to take them out of clips or whatever while some are attached to the caliper itself. Dodge decided to attach the outer pad via clips that are nearly impossible to get off. You need to lift and pry on them at the same time which is just asking to get your knuckles busted on something. I think there’s a rule that states that you can’t work on a car without getting injured. It’s impossible.

Also take a look at how fucked up your old pads are and wonder why you never got around to being responsible and fixing the issue earlier.

Push the Caliper Piston Back On

If you have a newer vehicle you might be able to do this by hand, but probably not. Walk back to the toolbox and grab a c-clamp. Hope that it’s big enough. Hope the caliper is designed where a single c-clamp will work. If not, go find/buy another clamp or get creative. Cussing usually helps this step.

Remove Caliper Bolts

These bad boys are meant to float inside the caliper, so you need to lube them up before installing the new pads. You might be able to remove them by hand, but I’ve found I need to reattach the wrench to them and twist the bolts while pushing them out.

Clean the Damn Things and Grease Them

I hosed mine down with some WD-40 so they didn’t look like shit. After this, goop a fuckton of grease on them so they move properly like they’re supposed too. Put them back where you got them from on the caliper. This shouldn’t be too hard because of all the grease on them.

Put the New Pads On

Insert the new pads either into their holders/clips on the rotor or on the caliper. Fuck around with any bullshit clips that the manufacturer decided to have just to fuck your day up. Ponder the simplicity of the job in certain repair manuals that state “installation is the opposite of removal.”

Put the Caliper Back On

This is straight forward. The hardest part is trying to line the fucking thing up. You’ll probably find that it’s difficult to actually get everything back where you removed it from. Maybe hit some things with a hammer/tire iron to get it all installed? I don’t know. Cuss some more, drink another beer, etc. Whatever you need to get ‘er done. You’re almost there…

Tighten Caliper Bolts (But not Too Tight!)

Once again, fuck around trying to get the bolts back in their holes. If you did good on the previous step this might not be so bad. If you still don’t have things precisely lined up you’ll need to fuck around until the bolts actually find the holes.

Tighten them according to their specs, and if you don’t know the specs (like 99% of us) just tighten them to where you feel okay with driving the vehicle. You don’t want to get them too tight because then the next time you change brake pads you’ll find yourself hating your past self for being such a safety-minded, strong-armed asshole. You don’t want them to be too loose because then the caliper could probably fall off.

Put the Tire On

Self-explanatory. Fuck around trying to line the tire up with the hub bolts and all of that. Probably cuss. Cussing should be mandatory for each step here really…

Lug Nuts, Jack, Tighten Lugs

Jesus Christ, you’re almost done. Slap this shit together as quickly as you can so you can be done with it all.

Give Up and Don’t Even Attempt to do the Other Side

I’ve heard you’re supposed to change both sides at the same time, but fuck all of that. The right rear side was making that awful griding sound, I replaced those pads, so I’m fucking done. Who cares?

Drive the Car Wash Your Hands Put Your Tools Away

Put everything back exactly where you found them so when you do get around to doing the other side’s brakes you don’t have to fuck around with finding the tools. If you’re really feeling like a go-getter, maybe find a piece of paper and note what size/types of tools you need to complete the job. I’m not this type of person, but I can dream can’t I?

Wash Your Hands

Your hands are black and covered in supposedly carcinogenic brake dust, dirt, and grime, along with brake grease. Don’t even think about driving the car yet because you’ll make the steering wheel nasty. Walk inside and wash that shit. Take a good five minutes doing so because you’ll need to wash them like six times to get them remotely clean.

Test Drive the Car

Pump the brakes before you drive away! If you’ve pushed the caliper in really far you need to extend it before you drive otherwise you’ll hit the brakes and the car possibly won’t do anything like stop.

Take solace in how quiet the car truly is now. And if it isn’t? Well, another side has fucked up pads so hate your life, go buy more beer, drive off a bridge, or whatever else makes you feel better. If you’re feeling up to it, go buy more pads or set to work on the other side. If everything is okay, jack on the brakes a few times violently to make sure everything works like you need it to in an emergency.

Relax

Congratulations! You’re done! You were productive! You fixed a problem with your car! Try not to think how fundamentally changing the brakes is a 15 minute job and somehow it took you three hours to finish it. The second rule of working on cars is that nothing ever works out in your favor. But you got it done. Good job. Fuck cars.