Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Suspension of Belief - Real Life

So I'm back from my trip and despite getting to play WoW all week last week I don't have much of anything interesting ready to talk about, so I get to tell you a little bit more about my life.

*Gasp!* Yes, I have a *real* life, day job and all.  I know, I know, calm down, it's not the end of the world.

My wife and I were married in February of this year and are expecting our first child next March.  We're extremely happy and can't wait to get on with the business of parenting.  I'm sure we'll do enough complaining when the time comes, but it's a wondrous event for us and something we both wanted.  She's not a gamer, which makes WoW one of the few things we don't share, but don't let that get in the way, she's a great person.  I couldn't ask for a better woman to be with, as each of us makes the other better.  Or so I like to tell myself! ;)  You'll probably hear more about her as this site goes on, but for now that's just a little about her.

What I wanted to talk (read: rant) about a little more today is my truck.  More specifically, I made a bad pun in the title because I'm going to talk about my recent issues with repairing my truck's ball joints and sway bar linkages.  If you really just want to hear about WoW, come back tomorrow or the day after, as I'll have something for you then...  However, if you are curious about some of the stupidity that happens in my little world, read on.

A few months ago my truck started making noise behind the driver's side front tire when I turned the wheel, especially when I was stopped or moving slow, and before the truck had warmed up.  Those of you who know a lot more about cars than I do (or were paying attention just a minute ago) can probably already tell where the issue was, but me being only a semi-handyman asked a good friend of mine who could probably rebuild an entire car from spare parts, to take a look and see what he thought it was.

So, a month or so ago at our weekly dinner/hangout/play Magic at Skyline Chili, he and I went out and take a look behind that wheel.  He grabbed a flashlight, I turned the wheel all the way to the left and hopped out to see what there is to see.

The first thing I noticed was a rusted bolt with no head and a loose plastic sleeve sticking up into midair, about two inches from a bar with an empty hole on the end.

My friend, looking for the source of the noise, had ignored this already, but when I asked him about it he said that, yep, that's a broken sway bar linkage that needs to be replaced, but not likely the source of the noise.  He had me go back and turn the wheel back and forth a few times.  Sure enough, there's grinding and complaining from my wheel assembly.

Turned out that the factory lower ball joint on this 135,000+ mile truck had started to go bad - the boot had been torn up, and being factory issue, when the grease leaked out there wasn't a grease joint to add more back in.  The upper ball joint, just as old as the lower, probably needed to be replaced too, although it wasn't making any noise yet.  So my friend tells me that if I'm going to replace the lower ball joint and the sway bar linkage, I might as well go ahead and replace the upper ball joint too, since it'll need it eventually and it'll save on labor whether we do it ourselves or have a shop go after it... and then he says that being a suspension part, you don't just replace one side, so we're going to replace 4 ball joints and 2 sway bar linkages.

The next day I rolled over to the tire/service station near my house and discussed with them the need to replace the aforementioned joints and linkages, and was informed that the cost would be roughtly $800-$1000 for the entire job.  I thanked them and went to the nearby auto parts store to buy parts.  I spent $279 (ok ~$330 after you include the alignment when done, but still - major savings.)

The Saturday before my trip, my friend rolled over, bringing jack stands, a *good* jack, and his toolbox, which contains a larger selection of tools than mine, and we set to work disassembling the area around the front wheels of my truck.

I'll shorten this part of the story for everyone's sanity.  It was a long, hard day of work.  He and I were both grease, sweat, and blood up to our elbows.  We'd had to take a hacksaw to get one of the sway bar linkages off and a sledgehammer to dislodge the lower ball joints.  The press I had rented for us didn't quite fit right and required jury-rigging (read: more sledgehammer) to properly seat the ball joints.  We did it, though, and it was a job well done.

I can see some of you asking where the stupidity is, in this story.  It's coming.

That all went down Saturday afternoon, and after replacing these joints, I needed to take my truck to a service station to get it aligned before going on my trip on Monday.  I called around to a few places and found one that was open on Sunday, and dropped it off before my wife and I went north to see my family for my sister's birthday.

We got a call later that afternoon from the service station.  I was told that the ball joints were the wrong ones.  They said that when they got the truck up on the rack and the suspension sagged, the joints slipped.  The guy talked to me about how he could look at the database for the place I bought the joints and see they were the wrong ones.  They would be happy to replace them for me, at a cost of $100 parts and $100 labor for each joint - $400 to replace two parts I had paid $60 total for to begin with.

Incredulous, I made other arrangements for travel on my trip and told them I'd pick my truck up in the morning before I left.

A week later, after I got home, I rolled over to the service station I had stopped at originally, the one close to my house, and asked for a front end alignment.  Two hours later my truck was fine, all realigned, and I picked it up.  Sure enough, there was no problem with the ball joints.  My truck is running smoother than it has in a long, long time.

I really don't know if one station saw something the other didn't, or if they were trying to pull a fast one to get some money out of me.  I have no idea if that is common practice or not.  I would think, though, that if you want return business you wouldn't tell somebody they need $400 worth of work, when they don't.  My friend suggested that it might be because we replaced the joints ourselves - that service stations will tend to tell you stuff is wrong because you did it yourself.  Personally, I wouldn't do that - if a person is smart enough and willing to put in the effort to do maintenance on their cars themselves, they're probably smart enough to tell when you're feeding them a line of b-s about something they did being wrong.

Oh well.  C'est la vie.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled program...

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