Monday, May 29, 2017

Back on the Road: Formula VS Smog Check - Epilogue

A lot can happen in 5 months...

Back in December when I posted my last entry to this blog I wasn't sure what my future held.  All I had was hope and a belief that if I didn't give up things would eventually work out.

Which is exactly how I approached getting the Formula back on the road.

I'm not especially religious but I do believe the old adage that the good Lord doesn't give you anything you can't handle.

December is a pretty long time between posts but I haven't posted anything about the Formula since October of 2015!  That's because, well, honestly there was nothing to post about.

That changed recently.  I picked up some work in March which improved my fortunes.  Now the Formula was always at the top of my priority list but it became even more so as the weeks wore on and it became apparent that what I was driving to work was not ideal for the purpose.  

The Formula needed to be back on the road...Fast!

Of course that meant getting rid of the demons that had kept it chained to the garage for 2 years.  

Recall that we had already dealt with the Fuel Pressure regulator, EGR, got a new intake elbow and ran a few tanks of the proper octane fuel.  Sadly it wasn't enough.

The emissions testing results from 2015 while less than helpful at diagnosing the problem still pointed to a likely culprit.  A high HC reading, that's raw fuel.  High CO?  sloppy ignition system.  High NOx?  Combustion chamber temps too high.  All of them too high?  That points to a bad catalytic converter plain and simple.  

Lot's of things can go wrong with modern emissions control systems on cars but the symptoms would show up long before a failing smog test.  As in the car literally wouldn't run if you could get it to start at all if it was anything but the Cat.

1995 was an interesting year for auto makers.  It was the last year before they formally adopted the new ODB2 standard in emissions controls.  20 years later it's a pain in the ass.  For example, the Formula has a diagnostic port identical to an OBD2 connector but it isn't.  It's OBD1 which means you have a lot fewer codes to help point you in the direction of what's wrong.  Not to mention finding a scan tool that you can actually plug into it!

Still, there are basic emission codes that can be set if something was really going wrong and luckily none of them were set.  Although that's not definitive either since OBD1 has a far shallower pool of data to draw from.  That means things have to be really going sideways before you get any information out of that port.  By that time the code probably doesn't mean much to you.  


Fast forward to the solution to my problem and we open on me in the parking lot of Mesa Muffler early on a Saturday morning.  

For less than $200 I was able to drive out with a new catalytic converter an hour later.  I immediately took the car out on the freeway to warm up the converter and then held my breath and got off on the exit that led to the emissions testing station.

As I pulled into the station, took my ticket and waited in a long line for my turn at the indignity of an Arizona emissions test my time had finally come.

I pulled up onto the rollers, turned off the car and dutifully retired to a cramped booth while the technician did his best to ruin my day...

He didn't.   At the end of it all I actually shook his hand and thanked him!  The Formula was finally legal after 2 years and all it took was a catalytic converter....

Oh yeah, and a MAP sensor, EGR, Fuel Pressure Regulator, Intake Elbow...

I documented the whole thing in the video below.  I'd have liked to get more of the actual test but I was rather forcefully discouraged by the technician.  

There was still work to do before the Formula started commuting duty, however.

We needed tires, badly.  We also needed a new belt tensioner pulley and weirdly a new gear for the headlight pop-up motor.  

So what's left?

I still need to deal with the fuel injectors as at least one is still leaking.  I still need to fix the headliner, get the hatch repainted.  All the normal stuff that a 20+ year old car would need.

In case you're interested, I've also included  a few videos below of the new tires and how I fixed the headlight motor.  I've been posting regular videos of my adventures with the Formula on my YouTube channel.  Check it out as I tend to update it more than this blog...obviously.

More as it happens!  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Triple A Motor Club - Full Price, partial membership UPDATED!

See that thing up there?  That's a Triple A Motor club card.  A representation of just one of dozens of associated motorist clubs in the nation under the Triple A banner.

An organization over 100 years old built on serving the needs of an increasingly mobile nation. 

Providing everything from road maps and travel planning services to car insurance and of course what everybody joins up for.... The towing.

Drive anything with a few miles on it and you'll soon see the benefit of carrying that little gold card the first time you don't have to pay that $200+ towing bill for getting ol' reliable hauled back home from Grandma's house somewhere over the river and through the woods.

For your annual dues you get varying levels of benefits.  I'm only concerned with the road service as I've found most of Triple A's so-called discounts to be anything but.  A quick flip through their bi-monthly glossy magazine reveals stunning photography of places you can't afford to go and discounts that won't help you get there any faster.

With your membership you'll get the added benefit of constant junk mail and offers for overpriced and under performing auto and life insurance.  

Their Triple A certified auto repair?  One of those vaulted establishments cost my cousin a transmission.

So yeah, it's pretty much for the towing.

Somewhere along the line, however, it seems Triple A is more about those glossy pages than service.
A belief evidenced by my recent contact with their membership department.

As I've said before, 2016 hasn't been a great year so when it came down to paying the $97 renewal or the light bill, the light bill won.
That was roughly 2 months ago but as I said at the beginning of this article, you just don't drive an old car without having something to help with the inevitable towing bill.

Now I can excuse the organization's push into more areas of revenue generation.  People have less to spend so you better give them more options to spend with you rather than somewhere else.

But when you compromise your core service offering there's a problem.

It all started with a phone call early this morning.  One that yielded a recording telling me to call back during "business hours" which might as well be "banker's hours."

OK, at least I wasn't calling for a tow truck.

Their "business hours" are 8 to 5 and I called at 9.  I figured I'd let the poor cubicle dweller who got to suffer me at least get his first cup of coffee. 

I have a soft spot for inbound call center workers.  Imagine working 8 to 12 hours a day fielding phone calls from people who rarely just call to express their love and admiration.

With that in mind I called primarily to follow-up on my renewal which I completed online.  It seems the Arizona Triple A website is less than accurate when it comes to membership status.  Even when payment was tendered the site still insisted that my membership had expired.  

Worse both the website and my paperwork had insisted that I'd received a new membership card.

I hadn't.

The friendly representative on the other end of the line answered my queries, ensured that I was indeed covered with my recently paid renewal and all was well.

Ah, but you know I just had to screw it up. 

I made the mistake of asking a probing question.  My membership expired October 31st this was December 27th, almost 2 full months had passed.

I asked if my expiration date would now change due to my renewal being 2 months tardy.  It was supposed to be a rhetorical question...

It wasn't.

I was informed that my membership would still expire on October 31st of the following year.  That didn't seem right.

When questioned further I was told that I was within a "grace period" for renewal which allowed me to avoid an extra "reactivation fee."  

That's nice, except when I asked if that meant my benefits were extended through that "grace period" as well I was told a firm....No.

Uh, something's wrong here...
I told the friendly cubicle dweller on the phone that it didn't seem quite right that I was paying for a year's worth of service and getting only 10 months.  I verified that this was indeed the case with him  and reluctantly, said representative confirmed my conclusion.

When you call a call center these days you usually get a recorded message saying something along the lines of, " This call may be recorded for Quality Control purposes..."

I reminded my hapless cubicle compadre of that and said I was pleased that this call was indeed being recorded because this was not a good policy nor proper treatment of a member.

I also informed him ( for the sake of Quality Control of course) that there are other similar competing services out there and perhaps next year I'll investigate their offerings instead of renewing my membership.

It seems to me there may even be a potential FTC issue here.  A grace period is fine if you're waiving late fees but if you're going to charge me full price for something I'm not getting that's at the least bad business.

At worst, fraud.

So for the time being I at least have some level of roadside assistance from Triple A but I have to wonder if I wouldn't be better served elsewhere.

Maybe I'd have gotten better treatment If I booked a cruise...

UPDATE:  I wrote this article on December 27th.  My replacement Membership card just showed up today January 12th.  16 DAYS!  and yes, it still has the October expiration date.