Dear Automotive Industry: *raspberry*

Highlights of my day: $24,000 truck failing to start. Rolled out of bed without coffee, straight into hours of driving from auto parts store to auto parts store. Several misidentified causes. 50-cent piece of broken plastic. Regrettable meal from McDonald’s. It’s 9:32PM at this minute, and my morning coffee is finally brewing right now.

Okay, long form. Sara, my stepdaughter and landlord, set up this neighborhood event today where everybody living on our street comes together to clean out the alley behind our houses. Brush removal, garbage pick-up, tree clipping, and stuff of that nature. 22 people showed up, and they did a great job cleaning up the alley. Of course, being the night owl, I was out cold all day. Mrs E was doing dump runs in her truck (a 2007 Nissan Frontier pickup), and she stalled it on the last trip. It failed to start. Fortunately, this was like right down the street, so she didn’t have to walk more than 50 feet to the house.

She rolls me out of bed and asks me where the jumper cables are. I tell her they went with her old truck when she gave it to my other stepdaughter Gloria. She tells me her Frontier is dead out front. I crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed, and I see Sara in the living room, who tells me Mrs E is out front getting her truck jumped. Mrs E and the neighbor got her truck running again, so I put my shoes on and we left to get a new battery. Guess what? Battery’s fine. The lube monkey at Wal-Mart (we went there because that’s where we bought the battery) was really insistent that the culprit was the front blower relay, because it was hot and clicked when starting the engine. He also tested the battery, and swore up one wall and down the other, and on his sainted grandmother’s grave, that the battery was still good.

That didn’t really make any sense to us, but the guy works on cars for a living, so whatever. He knows what he’s talking about, right? We went to 3 different auto places, and only one of them had the right kind of replacement relay. So, I pull the old one, install the new one, and what do you know, the truck starts right up. Of course, I don’t trust my automotive repair skills one iota because my daddy was the grease monkey in the family, and he steadfastly refused to show me the ropes out of some misguided fear that teaching me how to fix cars would doom me to following in his footsteps. As a consequence of my dad’s irrational fears, yours truly is not mechanically inclined when it comes to cars, which tends to result in me standing next to a busted vehicle with the hood open muttering “Thanks a lot, Dad” and paying somebody else a king’s ransom to fix whatever broke.

So I tell Mrs E to turn it off and try again. My self-distrust is justified! The thing doesn’t start. I pull the new relay and put the old one back on. It starts! I tell her to try again. No dice, it doesn’t start that time. Okay, obviously, it’s not the relay at this point. And I’ve just about exhausted my automotive abilities, so I suggest we have the store test the battery, just to confirm the Wal-Mart results. Good battery. I’m flabbergasted. We have the starter and alternator tested. Guess what? Nothing wrong with either one of them.  I need a photo of Saul Tigh going “What the hell?” for moments like this.

Turns out that the culprit is a little 50-cent piece of plastic. It’s a grommet, actually. A frigging grommet on the clutch pedal that lets the clutch pedal ignition lock close the starting circuit when you push down the clutch all the way. The old one broke in half, so it was basically a 50-50 chance of the truck starting or not. That’s it, a broken 50 cent piece of plastic stops a $24,000 truck from working.

R.C., an employee of the AutoZone store at 9509 Manchaca, is awesome. He’s the one who found the problem and fixed it. Turns out the grommet is a dealer-only part (Really, Nissan? Really?) which Mrs E has to visit the dealer to get on Monday. He whipped up a MacGyver fix to hold the truck over until then. People like him go a long way towards restoring my faith in the human race and the retail sector.

And on that note, I’m going to go have my first cup of coffee.

10 thoughts on “Dear Automotive Industry: *raspberry*

  1. emergencyoverride

    Wow dude. That sucks and yes Nissan is super bad about proprietary parts. Seems like every part on my 300zx turbo is that way. Glad you found a good guy at the parts store and got it going till monday. I am also having coffee right about now. What is wrong with us? Anyway, I took my wife to see Thor in 3d tonight and it was pretty awesome. What was not awesome was the fact that each ticket was 13.50 and two drinks and a popcorn were 19.95 for a grand total of 47.00 for two people to go to the movies. This is why we usually only go about 3 times a year. DANG! I didn't hear the ticket seller snapping on the latex glove for the body cavity search but I sure felt it when she was done :). I long for the days back in the 80's when I was a projectionist at the local theater and tickets were 2.50. Crap. I think I just sounded like my dad. Its official, I'm gettin old. Or at least thats what my niece is always telling me in her 15 year old wisdom. 🙂

  2. glenn williams

    My dad always had a car torn apart in the garage (he raced stock cars as a hobby), but I would rather play with the chemistry set he gave me, so I never learned anything about cars. A couple of years before he died I asked for some car help. He opened the hood, looked at the black boxes, wiring bundles and shiny tubes and said, "Take it to the shop." Never worked on a car since. I feel your pain.

    As to Emergencyoverride's movie experience, well, I grew up on AF bases in the 50s–on base theater tickets were $0.15, a Coke and popcorn another quarter. Today, it's so much (but NOT $13.50, wow) I feel like my name ought to be in the credits as executive producer.

  3. Christopher Roe

    EO: Yeah, we haven't been to the theater in ages. Between the choice of spending $50 to go to the theater or spending $10 for a trip to Blockbuster for the movie and the grocery store for the popcorn/drinks, the $10 usually wins.

    Glenn: That's what the raspberry to the automotive industry is all about. I can't figure cars out anymore, and anything my dad couldn't fix falls under the "You have made this way too complicated" category. My idea of the perfect car? 4 wheels, an engine, and a steering wheel.

    No power windows, no power steering, no power locks, no GPS, no push-button starting, nothing–I want something rugged, simple, and easy to maintain, with no glittery frilly froufrou "Have we become so helpless that we can't spend 5 seconds to turn a window crank?" features that make me groan in despair.

  4. glenn williams

    When we were first married, my wife had a '65 Opel Kadet that fits your criteria perfectly. Master brake cylinder on the fritz? Yank it out and rebuild–my wife actually did that herself. The engine could fit in a grocery cart. Heck, the car could fit in the back of my van. Now, even the smallest repair starts at three (oops, make that five) bills.

    Anyway, it's Monday, so when you get back from the dealer, keep us posted.

  5. Christopher Roe

    Glenn: Heh. My kinda car.

    Update: Mrs E stopped by the dealer this afternoon after she got off from work. This little 50 cent piece of plastic costs…wait for it…seven dollars and twelve cents from the dealer. I'm literally talking about a simple, solid piece of plastic that looks like a huge fat thumbtack.

  6. Anonymous

    I think the moral of this story is buy an automatic next time.

    With all those after market car part makers, I don't really understand how some parts can be proprietary while other are not.


  7. Christopher Roe

    Manual transmissions make me happy, while automatics just annoy me.

    I can't explain why. That's just how it is for me.

  8. glenn williams

    Cost to replace manual transmission $300
    Cost to replace automatic $1500+
    Probability of finding a modern car with a manual 0%
    Investing in an automatic transmission company priceless.

  9. Doug

    Chris- I feel your pains. It typically works out that the part you need is one that has to be special ordered (or purchased from a dealer), and while it costs 50 cents, the dealership or store you go into wants $50 for the part.

    Now I have to disagree with you on transmissions. I make manual transmissions mad, they always gripe when I get behind the wheel, though i am sure if I were to sit and actually learn to drive one I wouldn't have the problems I do have.

    Now for my truck which is an Automatic transmission, I was able to find a transmission for $500, granted it was used, but my brother did strip it down and noticed that it was rebuilt with all new parts, only the casing was original. Though I do have a good auto salvage yard in the area that I go to for parts when needed, they seem to be the only one that regularly carries for parts in a GM vehicle dominated area (Flint, MI).

    Hope everything works out for you and the Mrs. and you don't have any more unexpected problems.

  10. Anonymous

    Back in 1985 I managed to crack the manual transition case on my 9 month old Ford Escort, bottoming out over a large dip in the road.
    I was doing 45 mph.
    It cost me $1800 at the dealership for a new one, not counting labor and that was 26 years ago.
    It was a new model year and there weren't any after market suppliers yet for it.
    Transitions are the single most expensive part of the car.
    Fortunately my insurance company asked the city to payed for half of it and they agreed.


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