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When a vehicle 'dies'

It’s a foregone conclusion that someday every machine will “die.”
Friday, August 29, 2014 - 07:00
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Anybody who has taken money out of their pocket and bought steel on wheels, even in the form of a rusty/ragged old pickup, has, at the point of purchase, been fairly excited at the prospect of driving it for the first time as the owner. That feeling is multiplied when we’re driving a newer vehicle, and while all these rusty old hulks enjoyed that human attention at some point in their lives, we all know vehicles die – every one of them – sooner or later for one reason or another.

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That being said, we all have known of (or owned) vehicles that seem to survive for many decades, having been mollycoddled and maintained by gentle, loving owners until they become something of an oddity, like an aged person who is still living and functioning well for years after all of his or her children have died of old age. This “cars that don’t die” syndrome is more prevalent in California, due to that state’s stringent emissions regulations. Now for a few short stories and then a long one.           

When It Doesn’t Quite Die
Short story No. 1: We typically don’t do body work here except to adjust hoods, doors and tailgates, but this 2008 Mazda 6 had some cosmetic bumper damage. The short concrete post she had encountered managed to pop past that soft bumper shell so as to shatter the plastic radiator support and in the process make a nice French curve arc out of the bottom of both the radiator and the A/C condenser. Neither of those were leaking, which, in and of itself, was remarkable. The radiator support on this one was pricey but replaceable, and my student Bobby managed to get both of those heat exchangers and their housing replaced at a cost of about $750.  That one didn’t die, but the Mazda had suffered a black eye of sorts that we managed to straighten out.

Short story No. 2: We tackled an EGR code on a 2009 TDI Jetta (P047A – EGR Sensor 2), which turned out to be an EGR sensor that had flatlined. Don’t get thrown by this, by the way, because there are two of those sensors. Sensor 1 is at the passenger side shock tower and No. 2 is hidden in a flexible heat shield near the oil filler cap. Measuring sensor output voltage at both sensors just to be sure, we replaced the one that wasn’t delivering.

Short story No. 3: A 2010 Altima came to us that had suddenly lost its air conditioning, and the owner said a tire store guy checked the fuses, shined a flashlight around under the hood and cartoonishly told her he didn’t know what was wrong with the car but that the repair would probably cost about $950. We found power going to the clutch coil, but no activation. Further investigation showed a burned out coil, so we replaced the compressor with a new OEM unit from Ranshu. A few days later another lady with the same vintage vehicle called me from a different town with exactly the same story. She added that the tire shop in that town wanted six hours labor to replace the compressor. ALLDATA’s labor guide shows less than an hour to swap that one, and it’s not that hard. Go figure.

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