Don't Load the Parts Cannon

When it comes to cars and other mechanical activities, the temptation to get things working right is to just throw money at the problem until it goes away. I have heard it called the “Parts Cannon,” and today I will share an egregious case-in-point.

Almost $2000 Later

I recently helped a lady with her 2011 Ford Escape. It had developed some electrical issues that prevented it from starting reliably. Before I tried my hand at the problem, she had taken the car to a professional mechanic shop where they replaced the alternator, battery, and a few other items for almost $2000 altogether, yet her problem was not fixed. It still would not reliably crank.

When I came to look at it, she described a related issue: she said that when it did run, if she hit a bump in the road, the radio, if it was on, would shut off; or vice-versa. This was a big hint that the battery was probably not getting a good ground to the chassis, because a bump could make or break a poor connection. I yanked the battery out, checked resistance between the negative cable and the chassis ground and found that the connection was bad. One can of Sprite (Coke is preferred) and a good scrubbing with a steel brush later, and the connection was restored. (The soda thing works because most soft drinks are actually quite corrosive and can clean battery connections nicely. Think of that next time you drink a Coke.)

It has been a week now, and the Escape has started perfectly reliably every time. No new parts required.

Don’t Load the Parts Cannon

Now in this case, I do not blame the lady. She did not know any better nor could she do the work herself; but the mechanics that billed her for nearly $2000 clearly did not diagnose the problem, and instead loaded the Parts Cannon for easy money and less thinking. A similar thing nearly happened to me a few years back, when my 330i developed a bad bump in the driver’s side front when going 50MPH or faster; a mechanic wanted to replace all of my suspension components, and I was quite skeptical of the literal sleepy-headed boys that “diagnosed” the problem. I sought out another mechanic who knew German cars especially well; in fact, he called me to come back to his shop to look at the problem for myself. He showed me that the driver’s side radius arm was trashed from a wreck the previous owner had, and that the tie rod was shaped like a banana. Not a word about suspension parts. That is a proper diagnosis.

Further, I feel that I have somewhat failed in restoring my F-100, falling into that same group of mechanics who just load up the Parts Cannon. Fixing an older vehicle to be drivable and safe really does not have to be expensive like a local car show might make you think. Too often I have frivolously spent money on the F-100 that was totally unnecessary; had I been wiser at the time, I would have around $3000 in the truck altogether instead of ~$5500. Learn to properly diagnose a problem, and never shoot first, ask questions later.

– “What then is the result of what has been said? Is not this the result - that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?” – Euthydemus, Plato

Socrates speaks truly even about automobiles.

Poor Financial Decisions

Since I have become somewhat wiser about automotive stuff, I do not intend to fall into the same traps that I did with the F-100. I now refuse to fix something that is not broken, and won’t modify that which already works just fine. Instead, I will stick to the necessities first and the nice things second. The only exception I would make is when something does break, like my three speed transmission, why not upgrade to a four speed instead since it won’t cost anymore than the three speed? This, to me, is a sensible and simple upgrade.

Recently, I have been yearning for another car to mess around with (like I need it), and the lady whom I helped out, had an old car sitting her woods for around thirty years. In my infinite wisdom, I bought the car very affordably, got it to run, but have to get it towed because all four brakes are locked up solid. I will report back in more detail later. This project promises to be a budget-friendly, early 1960s cruiser that will turn heads once cleaned up. And no, I will not load the Parts Cannon this time, and neither should you.