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Bad Auto Designs
BAD AUTO DESIGNS
Most cars are designed quite well, and modern automobiles are built better today than ever before, getting great gas mileage and lasting 150,000 miles or more with minimum maintenance, but some stuff on autos is still JUST PLAIN STUPID! Here's a list of auto insanity, bad design, and idiotic engineering. If you own a vehicle with some of these "features": my sympathy goes out to you. If you're thinking about buying a vehicle with some of these "features",
DON'T !!! RUN AWAY!!! RUN AWAY!!!
Sad to say, but this page is a work in progress. I'm sure I'll be adding to it!
Disk Brakes have been around for a long time, and every car since the mid 1970's have disc brakes on at least the front wheels. Disk brakes have many advantages over the earlier drum brakes. They cool off (dissipate heat) better than drum brakes, so they won't "fade" under extreme stopping conditions (like going down a mountain, or repeated hard stops) . On MOST vehicles disc brakes are easier to service than drum brakes. On several cars the disc brake pads can be changed by removing the wheel, pulling 2 mounting pins, pushing the brake caliper piston back in, and sliding the new pads in. On these cars you don't even have to remove the brake caliper!
On the majority of autos you DO have to remove the caliper, but that's usually just 2 bolts and no big deal. To do the job properly you usually need to resurface or replace the brake rotors anyway. Brake rotors for MOST vehicles have gotten really inexpensive lately, so a lot of people just put on new ones instead of resurfacing or "turning" the rotors.
ON MOST CARS the rotor can be removed VERY easily: they just slide right off once the wheel and caliper are removed. THE EXCEPTION IS THE "CAPTIVE ROTOR!!!!" On SOME vehicles (all of them front wheel drive) the rotor is bolted on THE INSIDE of the axle hub. This means you can't just slide the rotor off: you have to remove the axle, press the hub out of the bearing, then unbolt the rotor, replace or turn it, then press the hub back into the wheel bearing, then replace the axle. Just to remove the axle requires taking apart the lower ball joint and sometimes the tie rod end too. Chances are good that during this process you'll destroy or damage the wheel bearing and possibly the lower ball joint and tie rod end. This means an expense of AT LEAST 2 hours per side, making the rotor replacement cost more than the rest of the brake job. In addition it adds a possible parts expense (ball joints and axle bearings) of hundreds of dollars. THIS IS ALSO NOT A DO-IT-YOURSELF BRAKE JOB! You probably don't have the equipment to pull bearings, axles, and ball joints. They DO make brake lathes that can turn rotors on cars, but today's rotors are so thin when new they probably can't be turned more than once, and not even once if the pads go "metal to metal".
WHY DO THEY MAKE CARS LIKE THIS?
I have no idea. I can't see how it's easier to manufacture a car that way. It certainly isn't a safety feature, in fact the opposite is true! I have seen many people just put pads on captive rotors rather than turn or replace them. Sometimes this works out OK. A possible "minor" problem would be brake noise and squealing. A worse case would be a "pulsing pedal" or pull or grabbing of the brakes. The worst case? CRASH AND BURN!!!
The only "good" reason I can think of for captive rotors on a car is a cynical one: Brakes last about 50,000 miles. If you make a car that needs expensive repairs at 50,000 miles the owners MIGHT get rid of it and buy a new one. A car built to "last forever" would be a "bad thing" for business!
AVOIDING CAPTIVE ROTORS
Most auto makers have "seen the light" and no longer make captive rotor vehicles. I've heard of conversion kits that convert a car from captive to non-captive rotors.
Generally captive rotors are found on front wheel drive cars, or 4 wheel drive cars on the front brakes.
Here's a list of vehicles I KNOW have captive rotors.
1998 Chevy k2500 4x4
90-94 Honda Accord
Hyundai Accent, Elantra
Some 1980's Nissans and some Toyota Tercels
Here's a video of how to replace a captive rotor on a Honda
CLEAR COAT PAINT JOBS
Nearly every car today has a clear coat over the color coat on its paint job. Clear coat can make a car shine, but there's a problem! Ultraviolet rays from the sun are VERY destructive, and they deteriorate paint. On a single stage paint (no clear coat) the surface of the paint will become dull after a few years. On a single stage paint job this is no big deal: the surface can be polished with rubbing compound, commonly known as "buffed out". Rubbing compound is a very fine abrasive which removes the deteriorated top layer of paint to reveal new paint which hasn't been exposed to ultraviolet rays, making the paint job look new again. Some products have chemicals which strip off the oxidized top later of paint to reveal a good surface. These products (like Turtle Wax "Color Back") work well and require less effort than buffing with rubbing compound.
With clear coat paint this won't work! Since it's clear, the ultraviolet rays go all the way through the paint and it deteriorates all the way down to the color coat. You've probably seen cars that have a "milky" or "cloudy" paint, especially on the hood, roof, and trunk. This is the clear coat deteriorating. Sometimes the clear coat begins to peel off in yellowish sheets, making your car look like it has leprosy!
You can wax it, buff it, whatever, but you won't fix it. You might think you could just re-do the clear coat, but that won't work either. The car must be sanded down, removing ALL the deteriorated clear coat, then painted with the base color coat, then clear coated again. You COULD use a single stage paint to re-do the car, but if you want it to be exactly the same color you need to go with the original "base coat/clear coat" system.
This is such a big problem that in the 80's and 90's new cars on dealer lots were having to be re-painted before they could be sold. Clear coats are a lot better than they used to be, but they still don't outlast a single stage paint job.
WHY DO THEY PAINT CARS LIKE THIS?
The reason for clear coat paints is it makes it really easy to make them shine. When you spray paint a car a lot of things can go wrong. A painter friend of mine once said, "When you paint a car a hundred things can happen, and only one of them is right!" You can see A LOT of really BAD paint jobs going around town. To make paint shine you have to get a "flow" going: the paint must be fairly wet going on the car. If it isn't wet enough you get "orange peel" where the surface is rough, like the peel of an orange. If it's sprayed VERY dry the paint will actually be dull when it dries.
If you paint the car too wet the paint will sag, run, or drip. Then you have to wait until it dries then sand it down and repaint it.
I have to confess that I really like the DuPont Basemaker paint system: the color coat goes on easily and dries fast, but with a dull finish. It's hard to make it run! The clear coat makes it shine, and it's easy to get good results.
Even so, it seems silly to me to clear coat solid colors. Normally I use a single stage for them, because I know it will last longer. The factory even clear coats white cars: and white is a VERY forgiving color!
WATER BASED PRIMER
In the 1980's car makers, to satisfy pollution concerns (and, I think, save some money), began using water based primers on their cars. Primer used to be solvent based, using petroleum compounds which evaporated as the paint dried. Water base paints have been around for years, especially in house paints: (think latex paints). Cleanup is easier, and there are no toxic fumes to worry about..
Trouble is, unlike house paint, these water based primers didn't work very well on cars. You've probably seen vehicles (Dodge Caravans especially) with huge areas where the paint has peeled off, leaving gray primer. After a few years the gray turns to rust color as the primer itself wears off. The only permanent solution is to completely strip the vehicle to bare metal and start over with a standard primer.
There's talk of using water based primer again, even water based top coats. Some vehicles are already doing this. Hopefully they have a more rugged product now. Time will tell!
WET SLEEVE ENGINES
Most modern engine blocks are cast as one piece. You can put a repair sleeve in a damaged cylinder that is scored badly or worn out, but usually you just bore the block out or get another block.
There's another way to make a block however, and a lot of the time it doesn't work well at all. It's called a "wet sleeve" engine. A wet sleeve engine has cylinders that are basically pieces of pipe that sit in the engine block, surrounded by the water jacket. The problem with this design is obvious: there isn't much area for the head gasket to seal the tops of the cylinders. Wet sleeve engines blow head gaskets VERY easily.
In addition, the sleeves can shift at the bottom and cause a leak if you just put a head gasket on them. On some vehicles, especially ones with steel sleeves and an aluminum block, the block can warp and the cylinder sleeves won't seal properly.
A wet sleeve motor DOES have some advantages. A wet sleeve motor uses a simpler casting than a one piece engine design. The block is just a "rectangular box" and the cylinders sit in it. On a wet sleeve motor the coolant completely surrounds the cylinder sleeve all the way to the top, whereas a one piece block has about a 1/4 inch area at the top that's solid with the rest of the block. In reality I don't buy this as being an advantage: that 1/4 inch of metal should act as a heat sink, and I doubt it creates a hot area on the cylinder.
Wet sleeve engines are found mostly on imports, especially British stuff. I was at the races at Sebring one year, and I met a bunch of mechanics from the Jaguar racing team. I was hanging out with them, and 2 hours into the race the car started overheating. They finally quit the race. On teardown they discovered a blown head gasket on the V-12 motor. There was a TINY scratch on the aluminum head: it would have been no big thing on a one piece block. But since it was a wet sleeve motor, that tiny scratch DID make a difference, and Team Jaguar was out of the race.
OVERSTUFFED ENGINE COMPARTMENTS
Some cars are a pleasure to work on. Others are back breaking, knuckle skinning nightmares! You expect major repairs, like removing an engine or transmission, to be hard. But some manufacturers make their cars so hard to work on for even the simplest repairs!
Here's a list of cars that have made me wish I wasn't a mechanic. I call some of them "Plasma Donor Cars" , because after a day of literal pain and literal bleeding over fixing them, I think "Gee, I'd rather just go sell plasma than do a job like this! Just a little prick on my arm, a wait of about an hour in the A/C, and I would have made almost as much per hour as I did fixing the vehicle, and with fewer scratches and cuts, and much less aggravation!"
The new Beetle makes you remove the power steering pump to replace the battery!! Now you'd think they'd at least make the battery easy to get to: you KNOW the battery will fail before the car wears out! There's really not much that's easy to do under that hood: it's essentially the same drivetrain as the Rabbit/Golf/whatever, but shoved into the profile of the old air cooled, rear engine beetle. This is the source of most "nightmare" engine compartments: the manufacturers try to stuff a drivetrain they already make into a different body from the one the drivetrain was originally designed to fit.
Jaguar XJ, and Jaguars in general
A "cute" and valuable car, but VERY poorly designed! To do many common things the first step is to remove the engine and transmission as a unit and set the whole assembly on the floor. This is "expected" of a lot of British products to do things like replace the clutch, BUT ON THE JAGUAR YOU HAVE TO PULL THE ENGINE AND TRANNY TO REPLACE THE STARTER!
Chevrolet Lumina Car with the 3.4 engine
On this "brilliant" design, you have to support the car, remove the wheel, drop the engine down, remove the axle shield, and possibly the tie rod. Only then can you get to the alternator. The engine is so big that you can't do much of anything under the hood without a lot of labor. Shops often charge $500 or more labor for this job, as opposed to $100 or less on most every other car on the road.
Here's a "how to" article with pictures showing this job.
Transverse Engines too close to firewall
Almost every car today is front wheel drive, and the engine is often mounted "sideways". Most rear wheel drive vehicles have the engine mounted in front of the transmission with a driveshaft connected to the rear axle. The "pulley side" of the engine, where the accessory drive belt(s) (or fan belts as they used to be called) were in the front right behind the radiator. A front wheel drive car often mounts the engine 90 degrees from this, with a "transaxle" either beside, or behind and under the engine. 2 axles come out of the transaxle and connect to the front wheels.
This configuration saves space, but a lot of times manufacturers put the engine so close to the rear of the engine compartment that it's next to impossible to work on! Removing the front "dog bone" motor mount can allow the engine to tilt forward a bit: that helps, but sometimes even that's not enough. On several GM vehicles the back spark plug nearest the transaxle is so hard to get to, many "quickie tuneup" shops just leave that plug in. A customer of mine had a car that had a misfire on that rear cylinder even after several tuneups. I put it on my oscilloscope and saw an ignition problem. The spark plug in that cylinder had completely burned its electrode off, and it was a different brand than all the rest of the plugs. His cheap tuneups had only replace 5 of the 6 plugs. I think that plug was the original one from the factory!
Ford Contour SVT
The regular Ford Contour is a fairly easy vehicle to work on. The Contour SVT (SVT means Special Vehicle Team), however, has an alternator and some other things that are nightmares! I had a customer whose Contour SVT burned up an alternator about every 3 to 4 years. He had a lifetime guarantee on them, so he was getting "free" alternators, but he paid me A LOT of money swapping them out. One bolt on the bottom is almost impossible to get to, in fact you can't even touch it with your fingers: there's no room! I got pretty good at the job though: I took the tire off the side opposite the alternator, and stuck together 6 feet of socket extensions. A single long extension won't do (I have a five foot one that works well for removing transmissions). You need the small amount of flex provided with several shorter extensions stuck together to worm your way behind the exhaust and motor mounts. You then can get the socket on the bottom alternator bolt and remove it. Once again, not much room under the hood. Probably that's the reason why alternators didn't last: No space and high performance means high heat, and heat destroys electronic stuff.
CHEAP WIRE INSULATION
Speaking of Ford: they seem to have an ongoing problem with the insulation on their wiring harnesses! Every few years they seem to get a batch of wire that has inferior insulation. That Contour SVT I mentioned earlier originally came to me to have the entire underhood wiring harness replaced. ALL THE WIRES under the hood were COMPLETELY BARE!!! The insulation had just turned to powder and crumbled away! Of course as I noted earlier this cramped engine compartment was obviously getting really hot, and heat destroys plastic sometimes. Oil and transmission fluid can also destroy insulation. This was a fairly new car though: only 5 years old! (this has been awhile ago!) The engine itself was clean and dry: no oil leaks. ALL the underhood wires were bad, even the ones up high on the firewall! Ford had problems like this in the 70's, then in the 80's, and I think this car was a 1998. Not all Ford models and not all years of the same models have this problem, but I've seen it happen too many times, and there's NO excuse for it!
I've never really understood vinyl tops. If you want a convertable, get a convertable! Vinyl tops cause rust on cars. A tiny hole gets in the vinyl and water follows, with rust close behind. A padded vinyl top makes this worse: the padding holds water and rots the roof out even faster. On a regular car the roof almost never rusts. On a car with a vinylm top, the roof will almost ALWAYS rust, and it's rust you can't see until it's TOO LATE!
HALF VINYL TOPS
These vinyl tops are only on the rear part of the roof. Half a top, should be half the cost to replace, right? WRONG!!! The half vinyl top has a trim strip across the front of it which has to be removed inorder to replace it. So with a half vinyl top you have to remove the headliner from inside the car. Then you can get to the bolts which hold the strip in place. (Those little bolt holes in the roof also let water come in if they aren't sealed well, causing rust to start.
FAKE CONVERTABLE TOPS
These add a new dimension to the word "TACKY". Once again, if you want a convertible, get a convertible. These are like a vinyl top, except they are made of canvas-like material and have fake ridges across the top, like the frame of a real convertible top. Once again water gets under them and can't get out. Rust soon follows.
"T" TOPS AND SUN ROOFS
Sun roofs leak. "T" tops leak. The glass sunroofs that just flip up often can be fixed fairly easily by replacing the rubber seal, or latches. The sunroofs that roll open and are made of metal have a number of problems. The mechanism can mess up and jam. The sunroof portion doesn't seal completely; there's a "gutter" underneath the sunroof panel, around the edges, that catches the water. This "gutter" drains through 2 tubes which exit under the car. These tubes can clog easily with debris, and then they overflow into the car.
"T" Tops just LOVE to leak, and sometimes even with new gaskets you end up being dripped on in the rain. Plus, what do you do with the "T" Top when it's off? Use up your trunk space? Or put them in your garage to get broken? Then when you leave them and it starts raining, what then?
Headers can increase the horsepower of a car a bit, but not as much as people think. The main benefit comes at really high RPM's. The exhaust of an engine is under pressure, so the extra "scavenging' effect of the headers is only a small improvement.. Modern engines have exhaust manifolds that are tuned just like headers: "headers" are just tuned exhaust systems! So putting headers on a newer car is REALLY a waste of time.
That being said, you DO get a bit more horsepower from adding headers to a car, especially an engine that just has a standard exhaust manifold rather than a factory tuned exhaust.
THERE'S A HEFTY PRICE TO PAY THOUGH!
I once had a customer who wanted headers put on. He had bought a set online. I was a bit uneasy, because the box had a list of about 100 vehicles that these headers supposedly fit. They DID fit his car, but not very well. I had to put dents in the pipes in several places to get them to fit around stuff. I had to cut off (shorten) the studs which held the upper "a" frame of the suspension, plus put a dent in the pipe.
Headers make most everything harder to work on. It's not uncommon to have to use a box end wrench to get the spark plugs out of some cylinders because the header pipe is in the way. Often you have to remove the headers to replace the starter. It's really unusual for most exhaust manifolds to leak or blow a gasket, but on headers it's ALMOST EXPECTED! The cheaper headers have poorly made flanges, and even the good ones don't have much surface to seal to the heads. If you DO get headers, maker sure they're a name brand, and that they are made to fit JUST your car, not every car that has a certain engine in it!
Auto, Car, and Truck Article List
ABS: Anti-Lock Brake Systems
ADVANCE: Car ignition timing
ALTERNATORS and Car Battery
BAD CAR DESIGNS
Bad Drivers: How NOT to drive
BATTERIES: Auto, Car or Truck
BELTS AND HOSES
BODY AND BUMPER REPAIRS
BRAKE REPAIRS: Car or Truck
Car Washing and Care
CARBURETORS:Car & Truck
CHECK ENGINE LIGHT
CLEANING: Engine Cleaning
CLUTCH REPAIRS: Car & Truck
COMPRESSION: Car Engine
COMPUTER CAR CONTROLS
CV JOINT OR CV AXLES
ELECTRIC WIRING REPAIR
ENGINES: Car & Truck
FILTERS: OIL, AIR, ETC.
FUEL AIR MIXTURE
FUEL INJECTION: Car & Truck
FUEL PUMPS: Car & Truck
GAGES AND "IDIOT LIGHTS"
GASKETS AND SEALS
GLASS: WINDOWS AND WINDSHIELDS
HEADS & HEAD GASKET
HOSES AND BELTS
"IDIOT LIGHTS" AND GAGES
IGNITION TIMING: Car & Truck
AUTO JACKS: lifting cars safely
LEAN "Car runs lean"
LIGHTS: WARNING OR "IDIOT LIGHTS"
Limp Home Mode
NO START: Car Won't Start
OIL: What's right for your car?
OIL LIGHT ON OR GAGE LOW
RADIATORS: Car and Truck
RICH: Car runs rich
SEALS AND GASKETS
SERVICE ENGINE SOON LIGHT
STARTERS: Auto, Truck
TIMING: IGNITION TIMING
TIMING BELT & TIMING CHAIN
WARNING LIGHTS OR "IDIOT LIGHTS"
Car Washing and Care
WATER PUMP REPAIR
WINDOWS AND WINDSHIELDS
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