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Monday, December 15, 2008

GM 3.8L Plastic Composite Intake Manifold

When car manufacturers decide to do something goofy, like using plastic intake manifolds, we in the repair business do not get happy feet anticipating a stream of big repair invoices. The customers many times see us as somehow connected to these breakdown time-bombs, wondering why we didn’t anticipate trouble, and force the manufacturers back on the proper path of metallic parts more resistant to problems. In actuality, we in the repair business love maintenance work, and would like nothing better than to service vehicles for our customers with all potential fiascos handled before they strand our clients. We are not always given this option, either because the manufacturers don’t broadcast their engineering snafus, or the customer ignores our warnings, which brings me to the pictures above of a GM 3.8L plastic upper intake manifold.
A metal tube routed up through the lower metal intake manifold from the Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve burns holes in the plastic manifold it extends into, allowing coolant to be mixed into the crankcase engine oil and combustion chambers. Unfortunately, the signs don’t always become obvious until the coolant contaminated engine oil destroys the engine. This plastic manifold was used on most 3.8L GM engines from 1995 thru 2005. The fix, involving replacement of the upper plastic (composite) intake manifold, gaskets, and peripherals is costly; but much less expensive than replacing the engine, which will have to be done if this repair is not completed.
I had three of these in the last week, which is how things go wrong in auto repair: in threes. The first engine was already ruined. The second made lifter noise in the morning, and was salvageable, as was the third. The first customer had driven the Pontiac from back East, which is much harder on the manifolds due to extremes in temperature. He said he had experienced no sign of failure until the vehicle simply quit on him. I figured if I put this out on the blog, it might get picked up in the search engine, as was my Honda Balance Shaft seal blog, and save some engines. When the hood is opened on one of these, you will not see this manifold. There is a plastic cover over the entire engine, which says 3.8L on it. It can be removed by unscrewing the oil filler cap and tube (counterclockwise). This allows the engine cover to be slightly tilted and freed from the rear fixture. Then the plastic intake manifold will be visible.
That’s all for this update from Nilson Brothers Garage, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brake Fluid Check

A lady in her late seventies or early eighties drove in the shop at quarter before five yesterday afternoon. She honked, although I was on my way toward her car from the back. I excused her on account of the couple of decades she had on me.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“A neighbor of mine told me I should get my car fixed here. They were real happy with your work.”

All well and good so far, but then it got pretty funny.

“I went to the dealer instead, because I was having starting problems. They said they replaced the starter; but it says on the invoice they replaced the starter assembly. Why didn’t they replace the starter?”

“Uh…” I was groping for words; because in the space of a minute, I’d went from being the recommended shop to being aced out by the dealer, and then enlisted as the dealer complaint department. I felt like Johnny Five, the robot in ‘Short Circuit’: need more input. “Do… you have your invoice, Ma’am?”

“Here,” she shoved the invoice out her window with flare. “See, they replaced the assembly. What does that mean?”

I scanned the invoice quickly. “They did replace your starter. It says rebuilt starter right here in the parts section, Ma’am.”

I point to the part, and she clucks at me.

“Well then why does it say assembly?”

“It just means they’re not replacing one piece of the starter. They replaced the whole starter assembly.”

“They charged me a lot of money.”

I’m beginning to understand why. I’ve already lost fifteen minutes I’ll never get back. “I don’t know Ma’am, but they did replace your starter. Is the car starting okay now?”

“Yes, but ever since they did the work, my brake light flashes.”

I look at her dash, and the brake light was not flashing. She sees my confusion, and plays with the handle of her parking brake next to her.

“It flashes like my park brake’s on, but it’s not. I know it’s not on right now, but it flashes while I’m driving.”

Ahhhhhhh… input. This vehicle has a brake master cylinder with a fluid level sensor. When the fluid drops to the minimum level, the dash light will flash, warning the driver to check the level.

“I believe your brake fluid level may be down. Believe me though, the dealer replacing your starter has nothing to do with it.”

“But it never did it before they worked on it.”

“Possibly, but the fluid level may have dropped slightly since your work was done. What they did had no commonality with your brake fluid level sensor.”

“So… you’re saying it’s a coincidence?” She asks doubtfully.

Yesssssssssss!!!! My mind screams, but because I’ll be twenty years older one day, God willing, I answer with much quieter tone.

“Yes, Ma’am, and if you’ll let me pop your hood, I’ll check the brake fluid level.”

“Why didn’t they check it?” She asks while I open her door and pop the hood. “They charged me a lot of money.”

“It’s possible they did; but as I mentioned, your problem had to do with the starter, not the brakes.” I check the fluid level, and as I suspected, it’s down. I hurry to the back, get my brake fluid bottle, and fill the lady’s master cylinder to proper level. I close the hood, and the car is fixed in seconds. Conversation time costly; but blog material: priceless.

“There you are,” I tell her. “The light should stay off now.”

“I didn’t authorize you to put fluid in. How much is it?”

“It’s on the house, Ma’am,” I tell her, and then I lie. “It’s no big deal.”

“Oh… okay then,” she smiles, and starts her car.

I watch her leave my shop, and then it hit me. I just got served by a woman two decades my senior. It gives me hope for my later years. :)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

They Don't Paint Murals

Just so we're all on the same page. This is tagger graffiti done to my shop in April of last year, and our whole block. They don't paint murals, and I don't want a mural on my repair shop either. If no one cleans this crap up, and the police don't act, the taggers hit the buildings time and again. If you think Connor and Ellie went overboard on the tagger they caught in the preceding story, you would have been horrified to see what I would have done to my building's tagger. :)