When Breakdowns Are Not Your Car's Fault

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There are many factors that go into automotive failures. The author calls them internal and external. This article defines those factors and comes to some conclusions.

Submitted: January 10, 2016

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Submitted: January 10, 2016



 Auto repairs are driven by both internal and external conditions that exist in and around vehicles.

By internal I’m referring to the things which affect the vital signs of the car or truck and, therefore, impact engine life and overall longevity. Those signs would include indicators like oil pressure and operating temperature which are really a reflection of the engineering that goes into a vehicle – the automotive equivalent of DNA.

The external conditions are those realities that the vehicle is saddled with through no fault of its own – clueless drivers, extreme weather conditions, ignored maintenance and misguided repair methods come to mind. This article deals with this second group and how your car lands in the repair shop because of it.

Driver indifference

You might notice that I don’t use the term “driver error” here. The word error assumes that the driver makes a choice between two actions, unfortunately, many times that is not the way damage to a vehicle occurs, unless you consider the choice between action and inaction an error. Drivers often don’t respond to warning lights or visible and audible signs that their vehicle is in trouble; the result is an auto repair bill that could have been handled with petty cash that evolves into something that needs equity loan funding.

The photo accompanying this article is of two brake rotors worn down so far that one is the thickness of a razor blade and the other doesn’t exist except for the half inch wide ring that remains. It would take many, many braking encounters to wear down the rotors to this extent considering that their original thickness was about one half inch. This would not have happened if the driver would have responded to the “scrunching”  noise that most certainly accompanied this failure. 

Hot, cold and wet

Vehicles break down more frequently when the weather is severe. Although TV ads for car batteries abound during the fall and winter months, hot weather is just as damaging to charging and starting systems. Car overheating naturally occurs more often when the outside air is elevated. A cooling system that is compromised due to a restricted radiator may be fine when the temperature is 75 or 80 degrees, but once the mercury reaches 90 degrees the temp gauge may climb or the pressure may rise blowing a radiator hose.

Rain storms are not good for vehicles. I have tracked the incidence of tire repairs after a rain washes all kinds of debris from the side of the roadway to the travel lane and there is a direct correlation between storms and flat tires. Moisture under a hood has resulted in many visits to the repair shop which could have been avoided by letting engine dry out. When you combine flood conditions and a destination driven driver the mixture can be disastrous to both the vehicle and the operator.

Owner’s manual deafness

There is no manual that will ever win a Pulitzer Prize or hold your attention for as long as it takes to travel from one exit to the next on the interstate. It is, however, where all the information about your vehicle is contained. When you get beyond the 36 months and 36,000 mile warranty period it becomes required reading if you want to maintain that 100,000 miles ten-year powertrain protection that your car maker provided. Use the service tables to find what preventative action is expected to be taken at your current mileage and then write your own service ticket for the repair shop personnel and in the process, you will circumvent their upsell efforts.

In our culture there is a tendency, some would say a need, to assign blame and auto breakdowns fit nicely in that box. If it is painful to look in the mirror to find the answer as to why your timing belt broke unexpectedly, hey, you can always blame it on the weather.

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