Monday, October 12, 2009

Hard to Love

Daily, I face a huge conundrum, as I'm forced to balance my unabashed love of cars with my occasionally deep hatred of fixing them.

It's only at certain times, or during particular tasks, but I'm convinced that there are at least two parallel conspiracies afoot.

Conspiracy 1: Automakers not only don't care about what is involved in servicing their vehicles once they're manufactured, but that they often deliberately make them both failure-prone and as difficult to service as possible.

Why, you might ask? Well, it costs money to take the time to consider service access while designing a vehicle, and even more money to actually implement those changes. That's not gonna happen - as long as the POS makes it out of warranty and doesn't require any recall work, it doesn't matter to them. Almost nobody buys a new car based on ease of future service, so why would they care?

As well, if they can force consumers to have to return to the dealerships for repairs, that's money both in their franchisee's pockets and their own, as factory parts and equipment are typically required. A perfect example is body control modules, many of which now have the anti-theft system built-in. Replacement requires reprogramming, and in some cases, the module has to be in the car and the car connected to the dealer's corporate uplink to make it happen. Some independent shops have the equipment for this, but precious few, and fewer still can reflash more than a couple of makes.

Even creating parts that will be difficult or cost-prohibitive for the aftermarket (ie: non-factory) suppliers to produce will ensure that consumers have to return to the dealership for parts. GM did this in the mid-eighties with its (initially) non-serviceable CS-series alternators. Took the aftermarket about three years to suss that one out.

Conspiracy 2: I like to call this "proof that a mechanic slept with an engineer's wife"; designs so needlessly stupid that they could only have occurred through malicious intent. I give you the DOHC GM 3.4 litre "Twin Dual Cam" V6. This is the only engine that I know of that has both a timing chain and a timing belt. I understand the reason for it (a pushrod engine retrofitted with DOHC heads), but I don't understand why the rear cylinder head has to overhang - by less than 2 cm - the oil pump drive, whose seal is/was a well-known and considerable oil-leak point. This means that replacing this $4 seal
- it's on that circular silver item near the centre of the photo - requires removing the rear cylinder head. Oy!
Other gems include serpentine belts routed through engine brackets (mid '90's GM 3800 V6), spark plug access that requires triple-jointedness and the dexterity of a Cirque du Soleil performer (Ford Aerostar), or overly complicated diagnostic procedures that don't always condemn the correct parts (certain Honda EVAP failures).

Not to mention nearly every automaker locating the oil filter on at least some of their models in such as place as to guarantee
a) a big, oily mess that will drip on the customer's driveway for days, even if you empty half a case of brake-clean trying to rinse it.
b) multiple lacerations from all of the precision-sharpened heat shields and plastic fan shrouds placed in tight proximity.
c) second, or possibly even third degree burns if the vehicle has been running for more than a two minutes in the previous three hours. These will likely occur from a combination of the 150ÂșC oil running down the tech's arm and the hot underhood components (like catalytic converters) that the filter will be sitting next to or immediately above.
Not that you'd expect to ever need to change the oil filter.

Geez folks, you make it hard to keep feelin' the love...

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