Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ford Engineering Fail

This is the trim from around the driver's side door key hole of my wife's 2011 Ford Edge.

Tonight, my wife called to tell me the door handle on our 2011 Ford Edge was all "katty-wumpus," the door would not stay closed, and the door ajar light stayed on. Out in the garage I found the door handle floating free. You see, the door handle just clips in, no bolts or screws or anything.  The little piece of trim pictured above keeps the handle from sliding backwards, un-clipping and falling out.

My door handle had fallen out.  My trim piece was on the garage floor.

After recovering the pieces I went inside to search for how to fix it. Having written a "how to fix it" blog post, I know they are pretty dang popular, so I hoped someone else had beat me to it.

I started to search... Hey, I am in luck! I am not the first one to have trouble with my door. In fact there are dozens of posts about the switch in the door failing. Most all authors suggest contacting and report issues. Always a good idea for safety related issues in involving passenger containment, brakes, steering etc.

I started watching this video. (sorry about the VVS I did not make it), and tearing the door apart. After about seven minutes of video I got to the bit about taking the door handle off. It turns out I could have started there as it was all I needed to know to repair my door handle.

The little piece of trim is held in place by a set screw that traps the trim piece in place. That set screw squishes up against here. Well not really here.

Where I am pointing has broken off. There, that little piece of plastic, squeezed by a screw, broke off, freeing the trim to fall off the door, allowing the handle to slide to the rear, and fall off. It is a weak single point of failure that could have easily been engineered to work some other way. Ford, you blew this one.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Thirty years of the same car

a photo I copied from ebay
It was either late 1983 or early 1984, and I was just finishing up my last trimester of college in Phoenix AZ, about to become a freshly minted college graduate. I was in computer lab with my friend David, who pulled out a recent magazine, and opened the centerfold to reveal the sexy beast inside – the latest incarnation of the Honda Civic. The CRX. We “oohed” and “ahhed” at the advertisement, the entire time knowing that neither one of us had the income to pay off our student loans, let alone buy a pretty new car like the one in the magazine.

Within a couple months, I was out of college and holding down my first programming job. It was not a glamorous gig, but I was paying the bills. I was driving my old "air conditioning free" Datsun pickup in the Arizona summer sun back and forth to the office. It was time to step up, and I knew what I wanted.

The little CRXs were in high demand. I called around to the local dealers, and found Honda Car Co in Mesa Arizona would sell me a blue one for $7,500. I wanted three options: Air Conditioning, passenger side mirror, and the shop manual. I went on the waiting list, expecting mine to be delivered in 6 to 8 weeks! I could have had one sooner from another dealer, but they insisted on delivering it with an option package that was already installed, and for a price much higher. I decided I could wait.

About a week later, I received a call from the dealership. The two buyers in ahead of me had their credit declined. My car was waiting for me to pick it up. On August 8, 1984 I drove it off the lot with .4 miles on it.

Over the next few months I added floor mats, mud flaps, and a stereo. My roommate ran a window tinting shop, so one evening we took the car to his shop to apply tint film to the windows. He had been experimenting with layering tint to get lighter and darker tints, and making patterns. So we traced the CRX lettering from the rear panel onto silver tint and laid it up on the window. Over that we applied the dark tint. From the outside, the letters CRX appear prominently in silver. From the inside they appear as slightly darker area.

The car got attention wherever I went. One night I took my girlfriend (now my wife) out to dinner, and the valet stepped up to park my car said “Cool car! I have one just like it!” He did not get a tip.

By the summer of 1986, I was married, and ready to move back to my home state. We put the car on a dolly behind the Ryder moving van and headed to suburbs of Seattle where my wife and I began our careers. For my daily commute ended up riding the bus, so I decided to store the car in my cousin’s garage. We would take it out every now and then to run the engine. It stayed there for nearly 10 years, coming out in 1995, with less than 50,000 miles on it. But it was also starting to show traditional CRX problems; the front header was cracked in two places. And there were miscellaneous dings and dents from parking lots and shopping carts.

We had just moved into a home with our own garage, so the car came with us. Now the CRX was nearby and available for more frequent use, so it started to accumulate miles. By the late 90’s the AC pump has seized up, and living in Seattle, I was not motivated to have it fixed.

In early 2000, I took a job off the bus line. I bought a set of rims and new tires, and upgraded stereo. I worked at that job for five years, and the little blue CRX became my daily driver. Down and back on I-405 the little car was racking up the miles. I car-pooled whenever I could, but the miles flooded on unabated. As did the progressive wear. The heater fan stopped running on low, the headlight chime no longer came on when I left the lights on. The rear window defroster stopped working. But the car was still a bucket of fun to drive!

In 2002 the alternator failed, leaving me stranded on the edge of the freeway. It was easily replaced and the little blue CRX soldiered on.

By 2003 we had collected our fourth child. When BMW resurrected the MINI I was starting to think that a two seat car was really not that practical for us, and I needed more seats. So I went MINI shopping. The dealers were pretty proud of their cars, and if you wanted the MINI S or the JCW, they were exceptionally proud of their cars. The MINI is hot, but I could just not get past the price. If were to dispose of the CRX and replace it with the MINI it was going to cost me somewhere near $30,000! But the question I kept coming back to was this: Is there $30,000 worth of fun and utility in the MINI over the CRX? The answer was always a resounding "NO!"

8/8/2005.  When it turned 21.
In 2005, I snapped a photo for its 21st birthday. I remember thinking it odd to have a car that was old enough to drink.

By 2006 it had rolled over 100,000 miles. The cracked header had come off and was replaced by a PVC black ebay special. The blue was collecting more dings and scrapes; the black plastic was peeling off the window trim. The kids leaned their bikes against Dad’s old car. Ugh. The slipping clutch was replaced. The leaking break master cylinder was replaced. Years of getting in and out of the driver seat had worn through the fabric on the side bolster, and the seat now wore an old t-shirt as a cover.

But after each repair, it kept delivering driving fun, and over time frequency of repairs ebbed. And a weird thing happened. Several of those four kids were driving on their own. The need for that MINI diminished.

But then on a dark and rainy night in November of 2012, tragedy struck. And it struck on the driver’s side front corner in the form of a little old lady. I was waiting at a stop sign to cross the intersection. A car approaching on the cross street from my right was turning left in front of me. She cut the corner too tight, and scraped the full side of her brand new Kia Optima on the corner of my car. There went my bumper, the corner marker light, and the fender.

And back to the MINI dealer I went. I had found a used one I thought I should buy and was talking to my wife on the phone after test driving it. She asked "What did you think of the car?"

"It will do." I responded.

"You cannot buy it."

"What?!" I was baffled.

"Look," she said, "you have loved owning your CRX for a lot of years. You may not spend that much money on a car that 'will do.' If you are going to replace the CRX you have to replace it with something you are able to be as excited about. Either spend enough money to get a car you are excited about, or fix the car you love."

I hung up the phone knowing she was right. It was then I decided I wanted my CRX back. The insurance company and I settled. I probably got more for the damage than the car was worth, but not enough to complete the repairs.

I was going to need some parts. So I started googling for Honda parts, where I was fortunate to discover NW Classic Honda and Danny Carlson living just a few miles from my home. Danny became my hero. When I needed something I thought was odd, Danny always came through.

Over the next year, I tore the car apart. The bumpers came off, the fender came off, the front header came off, all of the lights, and turn signals came off. The doors came apart, and I removed the locks, the lower panels. I traced the defroster wire back to the hatch hinge where the wire had broken. I found the heater speed control resister that had burnt out. I took the seats out. Cut a piece of marine plastic to replace the disintegrating fiber board that covered the spare tire.

With all the front body panels removed I found damage to the upper apron on the driver side fender. I would need a body shop to pull the deformation out. The seats were sent to the upholstery shop. And while the front was off the car, it went to the air conditioner shop too.

NW Classic Honda referred me to SouaSpeed and Kevin Sousa for a new front header. Kevin custom formed one from fiber glass for my car. The new bumper was fitted, the new fender was sanded. It seemed like forever, but soon it was time for paint to be applied -- See full album. I found a shop around the corner from my house that agreed to work on it. I had always liked the metal flake that was on the ’86 CRX. It was subtle, but it sparkled, and I thought it added a little extra pizzazz. So when I had the paint applied, we did it in the metal flake.

The car went back together quickly, and I love the result!  I ordered personalized plates, and now use the car for errands and dates. The little blue CRX will turn 30 years old this August, and I still and as excited to take it out for a drive as the day I bought it.