Monday, October 7, 2019

Further Adventures in Car Repair

There is a running joke in car repair shops that you can have 2 out of the following 3 types of repairs: cheap repairs, good repairs or fast repairs. I've also seen it written as cheap and fast equals not good. Good and fast equals not cheap. Cheap and good equals not fast. One last quote from the original Mad max movie: "Like the sign says: Speed is just a question of how much money you want to spend."

Today, it meant deciding to rip out $250 worth of new parts that I might not be able to sell or get refunded and spending $375 on different parts to avoid spending over $500 on another other set of new parts.


Yeah. Me too.

It all started with the air spring suspension on The Queen's Chariot deciding 250,000 miles was quite far enough thank you very much about a month or two ago. The air spring suspension in the Lincoln Navigator is a marvel of modern engineering, and it's also bloody expensive. The system has several key components which all must work in concert to keep the ride smooth and comfy. The heart of the system is an air compressor mounted below the passenger side headlight. That compressor pumps air through a surprisingly small plastic hose to the rear air spring solenoids (one on each side) when the ride height sensors (again, one on each side) tells the vehicle body module computer that something is amiss. If any one of those items takes a dirt nap, your paid for Lincoln Navigator / Ford Expedition is suddenly a low rider which bounces at the slightest provocation.

So, a couple of months ago after a minor blood letting to replace the radiator in The Chariot, The Queen is following me in another vehicle and says: "Did you know my car is leaning heavily to the left?" I did not.

Over the next several days and weeks, The Chariot's suspension issues had steadily gotten worse to the point that the entire rear end would squat when the ignition was turned off. So, I turned my Google Fu on, and I came to the conclusion that the rear air springs had finally given up the ghost and were no longer capable of hold air.

For those who have no experience with air ride suspensions, the air springs are basically thick rubber air bags (think of it as a thick rubber sleeve/cushion that is mounted around a strut) which may or may not be surrounded by a metal case which connect up to an air line and solenoid. Air comes into  the bag, inflates and magic happens resulting good feelings.

Well, you've all seen what happens to a tire after it's been out in the weather for several years. The rubber starts to dry out, and little cracks start to appear. Eventually, air starts to leak out before finally not being able to hold any air at all. All the while, your air compressor that feeds the bags is working harder and longer to supply air, and the solenoids are getting clogged with water, rust and particulates from the air that's compressed but not filtered into lines.

So, roughly $250 and a week or so waiting on shipping later, I had me a set of replacement air springs. Several YouTube tutorials later (unfortunately, not including the one that shows you close up how to do several key steps which I just found today). and I gamely made my first attempt at replacing said air springs.

It took most of a Sunday and a little bit of heat exhaustion, but I got the old ones out and the new ones in. I turned on the system expecting great things to take place (or at least inflation of two air springs).

What happened? Not a thing. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Bupkiss.

Running short on time, The Queen prevailed upon me to take The Chariot to a local mechanic we recently became acquainted with for the purpose of diagnosing the problem. $100 later, said mechanic assured me that the air compressor and solenoids were working, and the air springs must be defective.

Okay. Fine. Not what I wanted to hear, but what are you going to do? So, I reached out to the manufacturer; and, in short order, I had a new set of air springs on the way (ground shipping sucks when you are in a hurry).  Eventually, the replacement replacement air springs arrived and The Chariot went back to the mechanic to install them.

I dropped The Chariot off on a Friday so he could work on it over the weekend and told him to let me know when it was ready. Monday - no call. Tuesday - no call. Wednesday - finally got a call...that he could not fix it and could I come back to the shop and pick it up.

[Insert long string of your favorite colorful expletives here]

I'm not going to complain too much. He didn't charge me anything since he was unsuccessful in fixing it, and he was honest about the fact that he doesn't deal with air spring suspensions enough to know what's wrong. I went and picked up The Chariot, and fired up the Bat Signal for my cousin Vinny (not his real name), the mechanic turned engineer, to come out and take a look. He had me do some diagnostics until he could find time in his schedule which got us no closer to a solution, unfortunately.

He was finally able to make it by the house today, and we got down to business of doing our best to sort out the problem.

Discovery number 1: the rear air spring solenoids were completely plugged up with rust and schmutz and other assorted crap. We made an attempt to locate replacement solenoids, but we struck out. There were no solenoids to be found for The Queen's vehicle in stock anywhere in the greater DFW area for less than $200 (each) [I'm not spending $400 just to try and figure out if they are the only problem].

Discovery number 2: Punching a hole through a clogged air solenoid will allow it to function temporarily long enough to figure out that your skin flint cheap bastard ways were right not to buy $400+ worth of shiny new solenoids because the air bags were still not inflating.

[Insert more expletives of your choice]

Discovery number 3: The only other possible cause of the (continued) problem is that the air compressor is just flat worn out. Guess who is not spending upwards of $200 to get a new compressor to see if he's right? Yep, this guy.

Discovery number 4: There exists, for just such occasions, an air spring to coil over strut conversion kit that eliminates the guess work and produces allegedly similar ride quality. The cheapest kits do not include a gizmo that bypasses all the electronics that annoy the carp out of you with warnings and threats to check the air suspension. The kit I chose includes a bypass module that it supposed to take care of that problem without resorting to reprogramming the computer. It normally costs about $450 to $500 plus tax. I found a deal on Amazon for $375 with tax and shipping included.


In hindsight, I probably should have gone with the conversion kit in the first place. The Queen and I had discussed the options and decided to try and fix the existing system. I don't think it was the wrong decision at the time, but it definitely did not turn out to the right choice in the end. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat and go a different direction even if it means losing a little money.

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