Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Death of a Lexus (could be "inspiration in adversity" if you read it that way)

My fingers are dirty. And sore. I just spent several hours taking apart various parts of my dead Lexus (1994 LS400) to get to the parts that are dysfunctional. In the process I managed to discover the cause of the death of the Lexus: a malfunctioning O-ring in the power steering pump reservoir. This malfunctioning O-ring allowed PS fluid to drip onto the PS pump and then down onto the alternator, causing the alternator to short out and die, which of course then caused the whole car to die (once the battery was drained; fortunately, it got me into the driveway while it was still running on battery power, but wouldn't restart afterwards). One tiny little O-ring.

Now, my friend Dean would probably try to extrapolate this into a long post about how, similar to the body of Christ, each little part - as insignificant as it may seem - has an important role to play, and how, when that seemingly insignificant, hidden part doesn't do its job, it can cause the entire vehicle (the "church") to falter and die. I won't make such a leap, however... you'll have to wait on him to take this and run with it (if he ever does). I'll only share my frustration at the design... you'd think that someone could have foreseen this issue and designed it such that a PS fluid leak wouldn't cause the death of the entire car (because of the alternator shorting out). I mean, if you were on a trip cross-country and this died in the middle of your trip, that would be pretty lousy. Fortunately, for me, it was around town and we made it home before it died completely.

I'll also express my frustration at "modern vehicles" - they cram things in there so tight it's nearly impossible to get anything done. The PS reservoir was irritatingly difficult to take off, and managed to get PS fluid all over the place (despite my attempts at emptying the reservoir with a suction-type food baster and to cover things with paper towels to catch the remaining fluid). I also managed, while attempting to push the radiator hose a little in order to get a better view of things, to cause the thermostat housing to crack its seal and start leaking coolant (actually, I think the O-ring that seals that housing probably needs replacing, too, although it wasn't leaking before I stressed the housing by pushing on the radiator hose). The alternator is not exactly an easy piece, either - after getting it loose, I struggled with getting the electrical plug out (finally resorted to a pair of pliers to get enough grip to pull out the plug). Then it still wouldn't come off the stud that holds it since the PS pump pulley was in the way - I had to pull the pulley off the pump in order to get the alternator off the stud. And there still wasn't enough clearance to get the alternator out, and I had to pull the radiator hose off (spilling a lot of coolant in the process despite my attempt to drain the radiator through the drain hose - it did drain a lot of coolant that way, but apparently not all of it) and the radiator shroud.

But I did finally get the alternator off, and it's in a box ready to take to the parts store tomorrow (my wife was out with our one functional vehicle, so I couldn't go get the parts tonight, assuming they're even in stock at the local auto parts store). One little O-ring. Probably a $6 part (maybe less, that's the figure I saw for the part from Lexus, although I haven't actually seen that price quote from a Lexus parts place). Hours of hassle and effort (not to mention plenty of frustration, and a period over which we had no running vehicles because of our van breaking down previously), a $142 alternator, sore and dirty fingers, and gallons of coolant and quart(s) of power steering fluid. Oh, and I broke the radiator shroud when removing it... hopefully some super glue will fix it.

I have other thoughts (different subjects), but I'll wait to post them in a separate post in order not to overload you with too much at once (you know, keeping the post-size and number of subjects per post to a minimum). :)


Christy said...

Sorry about the frustration you've undergone with this car thing. If I were mechanically inclined I would help, but I'm not, so I won't. Besides, that's why God made you men in the first place. ;)

Tony M said...

Actually, despite what you may think, I am only one man. Not "men" as you stated. (I assume you mean a plural "you" - but, again, I'm not plural - I'm singular, but not single, since I'm married...) Then again, maybe you meant "you men" - God made "us men" - not God made us "men" - if you can see the difference.

Sorry, I know what you mean (I think, although I may have confused myself in the first paragraph of this comment).

Look forward to "a tale of two alternators" in the near future (that will be a portion of the subtitle of the next post).