Monday, July 15, 2019

Beatings will continue until morale improves

So far Bella is batting .667 on cars. Fully one-third of the dealerships that are advertising $5k-to-$7k Impalas told her "We just sold that one but we have this one that is even better and only three-thousand more!"

Among today's tasks were to take one of the vehicles Bella is looking at to a mechanic for them to look over. The dealership didn't have any plates when I showed up. I suspect the mechanics take vehicles home overnight and use the dealer plates.
Lower hinge on the driver's side door. The car was "T-boned" by a truck and the bumper of the truck came in over the car's rocker. I am not sure those are the factory specified bolts.
The mechanic found two issues that might bite her in the next 50K and some "heavy" body work that was poorly done.

Flex joint between the front and aft exhaust manifolds. The dark color on the left is carbon suggesting the joint is already leaking.

He suggested we counter-offer with a bid of $1500 less than the ask price. Just for the record, the inspection was done at Buege Buick in Lansing. The mechanic was more than willing to use my phone and take pictures I could use for leverage when negotiating.

The steering-gear (or rack-and-pinion) is weeping a little bit of fluid. The nice thing about these failure modes is that the will be self-declaring. Bella will hear noise and see puddles.

Bella continues to look at vehicles but she won't find a bargain until she shops private parties. Dealers are exquisitely aware of the fair market value of their vehicles. They need a $1500 profit margin to justify the space it takes up on the lot.

It is all about information asymmetry. The really FANTASTIC news is that Bella was approved for a loan and she is going to pay for her new vehicle.

Mrs ERJ's vehicle
We got a call this weekend on Mrs ERJ's vehicle. It was a big surprise. The shop said that they would not be able to look it until Tuesday.

They read Mrs ERJ's description of the issue and bunted the mini-van over to a shop that specializes in transmissions.

"Phil" from the transmission shop gave us a call.

Phil was 80% certain we were looking at a broken band for first gear.

Short lesson in automatic transmissions

Most automatic transmissions involve planetary gear-sets where the gears are always engaged and all the ring-gears, except the one that is engaged, free-wheels.

The ring-gears are engaged with bands (or belts) that are lined with friction material. Over time, the friction material wears down and the band must flex more to make up the difference.

Back in the dark ages, it was a neat trick to package a four-speed transmission that lasted 100k miles. Better fluids and friction materials helped.

The big break through happened in two steps. The first step was to have the transmission "talk" to the engine and say "Hey, I need a little help here. I am about to shift. Why don't you go smoke a cigarette for about 70 milliseconds while I get this done?"

You see, one of the big challenges was to "deal with" all of the energy the engine creates while one band is un-clutching and the next one is locking up.  All that energy has to go somewhere and that somewhere was to grind up friction material.

The first half-step was to seriously retard the spark for the blink-of-an-eye which drops the power output to about 25% of maximum.

The second half-step was "drive-by-wire" throttle. Instead of having a steel cable connecting the throttle pedal to the actual throttle (a valve that modulates air flow), the pedal is connected to a sensor that feeds the information to the powertrain control module and the PCM decides how to exercise the throttle via solenoids or stepper motors and IACs.

In the second case, the PCM manages the intrashift power just like an experienced person driving a manual transmission does: It backs off the throttle and kills the fuel while the transmission is shifting.

Suddenly, there is enough room in the case for six, seven, nine even ten planetary gear-sets because the limiting factor was the wear-and-tear on the friction material.

Smart software found a way around that bottleneck.

OK, back to Mrs ERJ's transmission
Phil the transmission guy said he could pull the transmission from the vehicle, crack it open and replace just the broken parts.

He advised against that. He suggested that it go through a full rebuild. All the clutch-packs and bands would be replaced. All the wave washers and the bearings known to be problematic and the o-rings.

The full rebuild was about twice as expensive as just replacing the first-gear band. A full rebuild at local labor rates runs from $1800-to-$2200.

From a purely rational standpoint, the cost of the transmission rebuild is very close to the market value of the van.

But Mrs ERJ loves her van. She can drive it without thinking. It has been a faithful warrior. She wants it back.

She will get it back with what is essentially a better-than-new transmission.

If all goes as planned, I will get a phone call on Friday telling me to come pick it up.

I once had a transmission guy tell me, "There is no point in rebuilding a transmission that puked at 40k miles. There is something wrong with it. If the tranny goes over 100k you can be certain that there is nothing wrong with the case. No porosity. No internal leaks. No holes bored out of alignment."

Pele's ride
Pele got the S-10 to the shop. Way more wrong with the front end than bolts that had the heads balled off.

Not sure what happened to it but dropping $800 into it follows the same logic: Where can I buy a better vehicle for $800?

The answer is that I cannot.

Even if I were to decide to sell the truck out from-under Pele (which is not my intent) I would still need to fix it to get any kind of price out of it.

My old truck
I drove it to Allendale to pick up the dead Malibu.

I borrowed a friend's car dolly. His dolly has "issues" like bald tires and ratchet straps that don't have ratchets.  It was a slow ride to Allendale and a much slower ride home.

I think I owe my friend new trailer tires, lights, wire harness and ratchet strap hardware.

I have a premonition that I will be using it in the future.


  1. Junk. She should be looking at a Civic or Accord for longevity and reliability at her age.

    1. STAY AWAY FROM HONDA! It's not the product that's the issue, it's the availability of repair information. Subaru Toyota and Nissan in that order for imports. My background: 20+ years ASE Master Auto Technician. Shop Manager & Shop owner. My personal experience is that EVERY car has the potential to be a piece of junk if it's properly abused & neglected. I have an 86 Ford IDI Diesel and I put my wife in a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a V8. I'd have rather had the straight 6 but the condition of the vehicle and history made me think it will last a while.

  2. Agree. Had an Accord that turned over 160,000 before being traded for no good reason other than I want a new car.

  3. The Hondas are definitely good cars. We have had 2 Accords and 3 CRVs in the family and had minimal problems. Mainly routine maintenance. One AC compressor and one master cylinder. Plus, the AWD might be good in the snowy tundra that is Michigan.

  4. Kids won't keep a car 10 years like us old farts... BTDT

  5. Our Toyota just traversed the US South-North and back, with ~180K on the clock, still running super strong. Toyotas have never let me down wherever I've had one. And my Dodge Ram is coming up on year 23, ordered it new from the factory, still strong except for the interior which is, well, Dodgy. If you keep the maintenance up to date and keep all the fluids fresh, they can run a long time.


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