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calendar   Tuesday - February 03, 2009

Just In Time Auto Repairs

I was having a bit of a problem with my car’s exhaust system a couple months ago. The Check Engine light kept coming on when I hit rough roads, and the engine code that caused that to happen implied there was something wrong with the oxygen sensors in the exhaust system. Since the sensors and everything, even the muffler, are factory original and the car is 13 years old, I figured I’d have to get a whole new exhaust system. I looked up what I could on the Internet, joined a couple Saturn forums, and nosed around as much as I could, and it looked like the sensors ought to be replaced once every 5 years. It also looked like I might have to find a shady mechanic, since my New Jersey registered car was actually built as a California emissions compliant vehicle ... and California changed it’s emissions laws, retroactively of course, just last month, so a lot of the aftermarket repair parts that were California legal in December are no longer certified now that it’s February. And my car has this big DO NOT sticker under the hood: DO NOT EVER put any parts on this car that aren’t California Air Research Board (CARB) certified. Even if the car has never been further west than Harrisburg PA.

I got my car inspected last week and it failed. Not for emissions, but because they said there was an exhaust leak. Which was no real surprise, since I’ve had the muffler hanging from metal straps and bailing wire for the past few years. So I went down a the local garage which I happened to know was a bit, um, flexible; I figured it was going to be a big $$$ hit. I’d already worked out a parts list from Walker (largest exhaust parts company in the country) and found a source for every last part of the exhaust system. If I had to, I could have cut off the old pipes, put on a new catalytic with new sensors and a new downpipe, then gone back to the shop with a “uh, my muffler fell off, hur hur hur” and they’d be ... flexible ... and finish the job while not noticing that I had a 49 state legal cat under the car. This turned out to be unnecessary. While my muffler was shot, I only had a leak in the downpipe. My catalytic converter was fine. But how can you tell? The inspection guys didn’t use that tailpipe sniffer thing, so how do I know that the emissions levels are Ok? According to Slippery Jim, my mechanic, the OBDC-II sensors built into my car are more sensitive than the old tailpipe sniffer system. I guess that’s why NJ automatically fails any car that shows up for inspection with the Check Engine light on. And not just on! They told me that the OBDC-II system has a bit of memory, and that it can tell you if the codes were recently cleared. So you can’t just use your own OBDC tool ($50, I own one) to turn off the engine codes. The thing remembers that they were recently on, and that memory will also get you an automatic FAIL. But since my Check Engine light wasn’t on, ipso facto my emissions system was fine, thus my catalytic converter was fine. I had the shop put in a new muffler, and I had them weld on a new flexible section to the downpipe. Good to go.

While I was there I also had them check the brakes. The old Saturn hasn’t been stopping too well lately. It still stops, but the brakes just didn’t seem to work as good as the ones in my wife’s SPEC-V. The guy pulled off the front rim and started laughing. All the other guys in the shop had to come over and see, so they could have a laugh too. I had about 124,000 miles on this set of brakes. My pads were so worn that the bearing surface was barely as thick as a fingernail, and the rotors were worn almost right down to the central vents. There was literally almost nothing left of them. Paper thin. They told me I had maybe another 50 or 100 stops left, maybe a lot less than that, at which point the rotors would have caved in and probably torn the front wheels off the car. Phew!

So I wound up spending the same amount that I had figured I’d spend in new exhaust parts, but I came away with brand new brakes and rotors. Plus the car is quiet again and will pass inspection. Not bad.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 02/03/2009 at 04:03 PM   
Filed Under: • AdventureDaily Life •  
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