Sunday, August 3, 2008

Let's Hear It For Manual Steering

I promise not to make this too car tech nerdy.

I like to think I can take on anything related to repairing a car. I'm self taught (but overly enthused?) and haven't taken a car to a repair shop since 2001 because I've been able to do it all myself. I'm known for my large garage, stockpile of tools, car trivia knowledge, and piles of spare parts. I also have the patience to wait things out and do it right most of the time (here's where Teason tells a story about me from college...). Why just a month or two ago I spent 8 hours replacing some engine mounts. Most of that time was spent patiently lining up bolts in awkward places. Most people would have screamed and given up long ago.

But all of my skills and patience were put to the test this weekend and I failed.

What brought me to my knees? A power steering pump on an old-style Jeep Cherokee. Yeah, that was all it took. Nothing custom or more complicated than that. The truck belongs to a friend. I helped him change the belt in the parking lot at work last week. We determined the problem was actually the pump and since it was right on top and appeared to be easily removed I agreed to help him out and tackle the job Saturday morning while it was still cool outside. I estimated the professional book rate to be 1.5 hours at the most. It had one of those horrible press-on pulleys. They're a struggle but I've always been able to finish the job. I'm an automotive winner with an undefeated record.

Until now.

After we broke 3 perfectly good rebuilt pumps ($70-$90/ea) and 3 pulleys ($20/ea), made 4 round trips to Wichita ($30), sweated through 6 shirts (ew), broke 2 installation tools ($30), spent 15 hours (ack), and severely angered my wife (yikes), I waived the white flag. I had to tell my poor coworker buddy that I didn't have the time, patience, or will to continue struggling with his car repair. Another friend of his drove up and they towed the truck back to Wichita this afternoon. I don't think I've ever felt as defeated as I did today. We're still on good terms as far as I know but I feel bad that we spent a lot of money and time to avoid spending a lot of money in a shop and it completely backfired.

So Paul R, if you're reading this, this is why I wasn't at church and couldn't come over Saturday p.m. I definitely wasn't hanging out in the garage drinking beer and having a good old time. It was blood, sweat, and (internal) tears with surprisingly little cursing.

As a result of this un-fun experience and the resulting spousal friction I'm not going to volunteer to help anyone with their car anytime soon. I don't mean to take this out on you all but I'm going to have to for a while. We've got too much going on and I have to quit this habit of over-committing. Also, I don't care who you are, I'm not helping with your power steering pump if it has a press-fit pulley. In fact, if I had a vehicle with such a pump on it right now it would be up for sale; that's how strongly I currently feel about this.

I've never enjoyed the high steering effort in my manual steering Honda more than I did today.

Boring Technical Section
Honestly, why is this design still in use? This was on a 2001 model. I think it goes back a ways, at least until the early 80's, maybe further. Basically the only thing holding the pulley on the shaft is the interference fit between the pulley bore and the pump shaft. This is also what transmits all of the power to the pump. Therefore it's stinking tight. Deal with one of these things and you'll get knowing nods from parts store clerks and old timers.

The pumps have no thrust provision so you can't use a regular hydraulic press or you'll push the pump shaft into the impeller housing and out the back of the casing (ask me how I found out... twice). You MUST use an installation tool that threads into the internal threads on the shaft or you risk destroying the pump.

Also, the pulley is made of pudding. Okay, it's more like an aluminum hub with a polymer casting around it that forms the belt grooves. We broke 4 of them trying to get them off the pumps. The center lip, the one made to engage the removal tool, completely sheared off of 2. The others cracked and exploded around the edges when we tried to press them off a FUBAR'd pump.


No special tools would be needed and labor would be reduced dramatically. But it would cost another 50 cents per vehicle to do and part count would go up slightly. That's the summary of the modern car, especially domestics. They are designed to be easy and cheap to build at the assembly line level with factory tooling. If that makes the most basic maintenance operations a living nightmare it doesn't matter as long as the part makes it past warranty where it's someone elses' problem. As a result, it often looks like the vehicle was assembled around something you need access to. It just doesn't make sense from a maintenance point of view. Ditto on wiring harness and plumbing routings.

Anyway, if you have a domestic car built in the last 30 years, especially a GM product, you probably have at least one of these pulleys, if not 2 (check your water pump!). I've also done time in press-on power steering hell in a Ford product. I think I've done the last one that I'm going to do ever again though.

Okay, rant's over. Thanks for reading this far, fellow boring technical people. We may be boring people but at least we know it all.

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