Just like food prices which seem to escalate every time the economy merchants bark, we see auto companies supplying parts turning to their calculators and pushing the PLUS button. I’m looking at statistics and Audi dealers seem to be pretty efficient at this. I hear Nissan and Renault drivers complaining about parts prices as well. In fact it’s the entire industry. Will we all eventually drop to our knees in unison and pray for a magic carpet which could take us to work every morning and hopefully back again safely if it doesn’t have a breakdown. Or rather why not start becoming just that little more proactive and buy from manufacturers that don’t hike their prices because they need to make a quick buck. Students of motor vehicle technology will be quick to tell you about the best part to use, dealer motor mechanics will warn you about the pitfalls of using generic parts, backyard mechanics will warn you about buying dealer parts and while this may stun and numb the cerebrum cortex, sanity does prevail. Once again the Chinese are coming to our rescue. But first of all let me tell you about the sorry tale of the ‘wannabe mechanic who reverse polarised his vehicle’.
Let’s call our DIYer Al. Al decided one wintery morning to remove the battery off his Isuzu pickup and do some backyard maintenance. I’m not against Backyard Maintenance as long as Al doesn’t touch the brakes or steering! In this case Al did Nada, he was a keen learner and with a fiery tempo to his gait set about cleaning the diesel motor with water, petrol and a toothbrush. Once the engine looked more than pristine he replaced the battery and sadly realised that there was a problem afoot when the DC electrics failed to do the job. Being quick witted he removed the battery pretty smartly when he noticed that the red dot and the black cable didn’t colour match and did a quick rotation. “Alas, too late”, the fat man sang. The truck cranked but didn’t start. What had happened was the glow plug circuitry – yep they were electronic even in those days – was fried. Unbeknown to him, so were the alternator diodes. Luckily that was all. Dealer price in those days was about 400U$. If you opened the glow plug supply black box there was nothing to see but a block of resin or epoxy if you prefer. On top of the resin was something that looked akin to a big silver diode. Snipping this off removed the short ciruit. Replacing the diodes on the alternator finished the job. Making sure that the darned battery was connected properly did the trick. In fact for 30U$ his van was up and running. Dealer price = 900U$. This was in 1996. A bargain for Nissan the dealer and well … Al had blown his pension for the month! This DIY mechanic will never open the bonnet again, the fear is so great. This concerns me though. Where are the safeguards?
Why do manufacturers choose to encapsulate their engine electronic control units with resin. Imagine opening your audio amplifier from your hi-fi system to find a block of black resin. A surgeon opening the cranium cavity to find a block of resin? Ummm – yes I can. But in the auto industry this is sacrilege. Why are battery terminals still the same size or more so, same shape. And ummm, why can one position the battery the wrong way round in the first place? So looking at this little mechanical idiosyncrasy I’d look at reshaping battery casing at the base and ensuring only the correct cable can reach the positively correct terminal. Oh yes, trust me, with modern cars you can rotate the battery, an uneducated user can stretch either the pos or neg lead to reach the ‘wrong’ terminal and pandemonium is about to wreak havoc on your wallet. It’s unbelievable – the millions we can make out of the DIYer who doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. The reality is we looked at a case scenario from 1996 and things haven’t changed. DIYers DO remove batteries and things go wrong. Nobody boasts about stupid mistakes they make because after all we are all made up of living (some dead) cells driven by the queen bee, the ego cell. Moving one step closer to the truth is why are manufacturers not focusing on the DIYer or in many cases lady drivers. Don’t tell me that modern cars are not designed to be fiddled with by the layman but yes modern cars are not designed to be fiddled with by laymen. Mechanics has evolved and never more so than right now. It’s going to get worse. Eventually we will open the bonnet and find a block of resin with three reservoir caps for fuel, water and hydraulic fluid. Maybe one reservoir for hydrogen.
I looked at a Chinese car the other day. I could see the engine. I could see the suspension. I could see the ball-joints. I could see the steering rack. I could turn the battery around and blow the electrics. The reason why I saw this car was because it wasn’t starting. So although it used parts we could see we couldn’t see why it wasn’t starting. Instead of having to replace the entire engine because it had seized, or telling the driver that the PGZ-001 sensor was faulty or worse still, she had no fuel – there was a blown fuse. This was amazing, I could fix this auto for under a dollar. The best part is that a) the driver knew where to get the spare fuse – yes, it had been explained to her by the dealer b) our Asian buddies made sure it was easily visible, c) spare parts kit had extra spare fuses with the basic tools and ha ha ha – there was an LED which showed which fuse was blown. And this was an entry level car.
Going one step further I’ll tell you that the ignitor block fuse had blown. Go to Alibaba and see what the entire module costs, albeit you need to buy a few modules to fit one. The total landed price for this unit was under 100U$. (2012 – May). Current price for a well known German model is over 1000U$. Sad to think they most probably do the same job and also made by the Chinese.
I think the Chinese are pissing on our batteries.