For the last two or three weeks I've been listening to my pickup truck make a noise that can only be accurately described as "frowny noises" (Thank linnaeus for that term!) each time I step on the brake pedal. It started out as a light whine or squeak when I hit the brakes, and that progressed into something not nearly as subtle and a lot more shrill. It became highly alarming to me on Wednesday night when I was coming home and I heard a squeal that sounded a lot like metal pressing against metal. There was no sign of the sound I was dreading the most -- the angry grind of rivets against discs -- but it was possible that wouldn't be far behind. Thursday I spent the drive to and from the office doing everything in my power to avoid pressing on the pedal at all, going so far as to jake-brake the truck to a nice leisurely coast before I gingerly applied the brake pedal.
Like most automotive problems I've encountered the time-tested tradition of ignoring the matter and hoping it would go away on its own did, in fact, do nothing for me in terms of actually fixing the problem. I knew from previous experience that this was something I would have to get fixed, and that my procrastination would only serve to make the repairs more expensive. I've been down the road of brake repairs numerous before, you see, and I've seen the damage that a brake caliper can inflict upon a disc once the pad has worn away and there's nothing but rivets left to stop your vehicle. This situation had already occurred once upon my pickup and I wasn't terribly thrilled about the idea of it happening a second time on a new pair of discs. Since I wanted to go hang out with a couple of friends from FurryMuck on Saturday I decided that Friday would be the best time to take the truck in for repairs. The end of the week seemed ideal because I could escape from work an hour or so early, skip up to the shop and get the work done. Once they were done I could pay my bill and get on my way knowing I was driving a safer vehicle and that I'd save myself a good chunk of change by not doing further damage to my discs. Pity that plan fell apart.
At 1500 on Friday I bid everyone a good weekend and took my leave, making tracks to the only brake shop in the area that I felt any trust in anymore. About twenty minutes later I arrived at the Merlin Muffler & Brake in Arlington Heights. It wasn't close to my office or the apartment, in fact it was about halfway in-between the two locations, but I felt good taking it there. When I was still dating jenwolf I ended up taking her Cavalier there to get its brakes redone when they were in dire shape, and I felt the service was good and the prices competitive for a chain store. Most memorable to me was the owner who was a fellow with a colorful background and a laugh that was somewhat infectious. He'd given me good service and his mechanics had done good work on Jen's car, so I felt it would be worth my time and money to patronize his store again, even if it was no longer conveniently located for me.
I rolled into his parking lot at around 1530, filled out the paperwork and was a bit disappointed to find the owner didn't recognize me. I'm not really surprised, though, because the last time I'd been in there the event was nothing overly memorable. It had also been six months or more since I'd taken Jen's car there, and I wasn't sporting the beard back then either. I'm sure he sees plenty of customers on a daily basis, and since I worked in retail I know how hard it can be to remember one lone incident in a sea of faces and other problems that occur each working day.
I sat for maybe fifteen minutes in the lounge before they moved my pickup into the garage, passing my time by idly websurfing and chatting with folks over AIM via my SideKick. Another fifteen or twenty minutes passed before the mechanic I had spoken to on the phone in the morning came into the lounge and motioned for me to follow him. You didn't have to be a genius to look at the guy's face and see that he had plenty of bad news for me. Sure enough, once I got to my truck he started going into everything that was wrong with what he had inspected that far. The brake pads on my driver's side front disc were worn down -- no surprise there, that was where I'd been hearing the squeak from. So I'd need new pads on the front. The discs themselves were not, in fact, new. They've been machined at least twice and were at a level that they'd have to be replaced if any further wear were placed upon them. That came as quite a shock to me, since I had been told new discs were put on the front of my truck a year and change ago when I had to have the front end reworked. Clearly the shop that had done the previous work only machined my existing discs down to spec rather than replace them with all-new discs while they had the front axel torn apart. Needless to say I'm not terribly pleased about that, but gestured the Merlin's guy to go own. More bad news was in store for me, and I had an idea what direction it was going in when the mechanic asked me to lay my hand on the driver's side front hub. Sure enough that thing was scalding hot. This is a classic sign of a brake caliper hanging up; that is, the brake piston was not retracting after the pressure of the brake pedal had been released. This would account for the abnormal wear, as well as the noise I was hearing. The calipers on the truck right now were original equipment -- that meant they were over eleven years old and had more than 172,000 miles on them. They probably needed to be replaced to make this problem go away. That's not cheap.
Another contributing factor to the situation of the hanging brake was quickly brought to my attention when Greg, the mechanic, pointed out the hose lines that ran from the frame of the truck down to the caliper. The exterior rubber was cracked and missing in some places, and the inner sleeve didn't look to be in the best of shape. That's when I knew I was well and truly screwed. You see, as the hose gets older the rubber is going to break down, but that's more of a safety concern. What's really bad is that the sleeve inside begins to rot. As it rots it becomes more susceptible to failure, which means it could rip open some day when I apply the brakes, leaving me with no pressure and no front disc brakes. That's bad for sure, but wasn't really the problem of the moment. No, the thing about it that was causing me problems at this juncture was the other tendency the sleeve has when it rots -- it swells. This effectively constricts the path that the hydraulic brake fluid must travel, making it more difficult to apply the breaks. Conversely it makes the path the fluid must travel back to the master cylinder more difficult to flow through, so it tends to stay put... meaning the caliper stays engaged. That's why my front wheels were so hard to turn (they should have spun freely and didn't), and also why I was seeing such insane wear in such a short amount of time. That's also why the hub was so hot. Okay, so now we're up to a set of brake pads for the front, new calipers, and new hoses.
But wait, we're not done yet!
Greg asked if I'd noticed that every time I'd start the truck I'd get a brief screech from the serpentine belt. Had I noticed? Had I noticed? Hell yes I had noticed! I've been trying to figure out why it was doing that for the last 18 months! Well, Greg had my answer... the idler pulley was shot. That's right, the belt tensioner's spring had failed so badly you could actually move it aside by hand -- something you should only be able to accomplish with a 4-foot breaker bar and a couple burly men. Because the tensioner was shot the belt was flexing and breaking free every time the engine torqued over on start. This also had the negative effect of tearing up my serpentine belt. Serpentine belts are important in today's car because they're responsible for running everything from the alternator to power steering pumps and more. I hate today's "modern" car and wish I had my old 1985 F-250 back with the six or eight individual v-belts running around underneath the hood. So for those of you who haven't been keeping track I'm now up to new calipers (and their associated hardware), new hoses, new brake pads, a new idler pulley and a new serpentine belt. All right, that sucks. So what's next?
Odd as it may sound... my lug nuts on the front had to be replaced. Why would lug nuts need to be replaced? Well, let me explain... my pickup is an F-150 XLT. That means it has lots of power toys (Power windows, power locks, power lumbar support). It also comes with fancy chrome trim in lots of different place.s The bumpers are chromed front and back, the wheel wells have chrome trim, the rims are flashy-looking alloy and the lug nuts are chromed too. But they're made of two separate pieces... the nut itself, and a cover with the pretty-looking chrome. Over time the road salt, sand and water had made its way between the cover and the nut, caused rust to occur and in some cases literally blown the cover right off the nut. I couldn't believe that stuff like this had been occurring on my pickup and that I'd not noticed it myself. Okay, so add ten new lug nuts to my bill.
What else could go wrong?
Well, how about the shocks? That is what else could go wrong. Greg pointed out that one of them had rusted so badly it was about to fall out of the frame. They were also, in his opinion, original equipment shocks. Well, that explained why the pickup was handling so badly. It had gotten to the point that I had excessive wheel hop going around any type of turn and couldn't accelerate on wet pavement. Greg assured me that if we replaced all four shocks the pickup would ride like a brand new rig. Okay, I was sold. 173,000+ miles and 11 years of service, I've gotten my money's worth. How much was this going to take?
For parts, labor and inspection I was looking at a bill of $1,152. Holy crow. One thousand dollars in repair work, all of it "routine." That tells me I've really been running this thing into the dirt and neglecting it. My only concern was "could they get this done tonight?" I was assured it wouldn't be a problem, and so I signed on the dotted line to let them get to work.
I passed the next two hours sitting in the lounge, playing some games on my SideKick and reading some of the magazines that were scattered on the chairs around me. I have to say, the new F-150 looks pretty nice on the outside but the inside makes me want to retch. A truck is a truck, I should open the door and feel like I'm sitting inside a Kenworth, not a damned sedan! But that's exactly what Ford's done in a desperate bid to get the F-150 back to the number-one slot on the F-series. They've made the outside look more traditional, and have made the inside look like a luxury car in an attempt to convince people "Hey, it's like an SUV, but not nearly as expensive! And it drives like a car!" Bastards. Looks like I'm going to have to turn to GM for my next pickup truck.
At 1800, the time the store was supposed to close, the truck still wasn't done. It was close, but wasn't entirely complete. Harry -- the store's owner -- offered to let me hang around the lounge and watch TV with him while the mechanics finished up on their work. Since I didn't have any other option available to me short of calling roho or enveri to come collect me I took him up on his offer. This was when the only mistake of the night occurred -- it turns out there was a miscommunication between Greg and Harry, and my hoses hadn't gotten ordered. D'oh! All these new parts had gone on but without the hoses I'd still be experiencing problems. Harry quickly got on the phone and called to his different supply shops. Surprise surprise, these hoses and their necessary hardware are parts that can only be special ordered from Ford. All the dealers had closed up for the evening so there was no way Harry could get ahold of any until Saturday morning. Would I mind coming back? Well, not really. If I'd put all this money into getting this work done I was damn well going to see it through to completion. I wasn't about to keep driving the truck with parts that were that badly in need of repair still! So I sent an AIM message to Roho asking him to let Wesley and Stryck know that I would have to skip out on my Saturday engagement with them in downtown Chicago so I could bring the truck back to the mechanic instead of driving out to meet them.
At around 1915 last night I finally had a truck that at least could stop and start under its own power again. We agreed that I would wait for them to call me in the morning so I'd know when to bring the truck back for them to work on. I made a line for home so I could hook up with Roho and Kestral and get over to our Friday night haunt before 2000 (8 PM for you out there not familiar with the 24 hour clock), which is when they'd start charging cover. It was nice to get back into the pool hall, and I found out just how much I needed the practice I'd been getting when we were there on a weekly basis. I royally sucked last night, missing shots that I would have had no problem making three weeks ago (the last time we were there). We got a few drinks from James, the bartender, and were pleased to see that he's starting to recognize us on sight. We're well on our way to being regulars there, even if we are only there for something like two hours every Friday night.
This morning I woke up, fed Ra and started to putter around on the computer. Around 10:55 or so I got a call from Greg saying that the hoses had arrived. He asked me to bring the pickup down as soon as possible (they close at 3 PM on Saturdays) so they could have the maximum amount of time to work on it in case they encountered a problem. I grabbed Roho and Kes, asked them to follow me and drove down. We dropped the pickup off and made a beeline North to our favorite weekend haunt for lunch. Today was the last day I get to enjoy having my stir fry wrapped snugly in tortillas, I'm going to go on the Atkins diet for a few months. I'm hoping that when paired with some time each week on the treadmill I'll be able to shed the ten or fifteen extra pounds that I seem to have acquired sometime over the last three years. Mostly I'd just like to be able to fit into some of my old dress clothes. There is no reason those collars can't fit around my neck again!
About 2:15 PM I made a call to the shop and got ahold of Stan, one of the other mechanics. Stan said that the truck was done and would be ready for me to pick up. So once again Kestral, Roho and I got into the car and drove down to the store, cursing the light but slick snow that had been falling all morning and was gradually making the roads more icy than we would like. I got my pickup in just the condition I was promised, and it does indeed handle like a whole new vehicle. I can't complain about the money I've spent on getting this fixed because it was well-spent. I think these repairs will (with the exception of the brake pads) last well beyond the life span of this truck. I plan to drive it until there's nothing left but a frame with some rusted panels on it, and this work will go a long way to seeing me towards that goal.
I'm reminded, Liin wants me to make a snowman and take a picture of it for her, since she doesn't get any snow where she is. Hmm. I just might do that tomorrow instead of working on any of the other things I should be working on....
Well she lit up the sky that fourth of July