Friday, February 24, 2012

Using Modern Technology To Fix a Vehicle From 150 Miles Away


I was just wrapping up my lunch with some coworkers in a noisy grocery store deli when my phone rang with my wife on the line. Actually it the sound wasn't a ring but the opening guitar rifts to Deep Purple's 'Smoke On the Water' but I digress. Within about two seconds, I could tell something was up not because she was calling me on a Friday afternoon but by the tone of her voice. I guess when you've been married eight years, you tend to learn every nuance of your wife's voice. By the time we've been married twenty-five years, I expect I will just sense something without her evening calling.

Her part of the conversation started with, "there is a loud sound coming from the front of the car." Pause the script a second as I fill you in a bit. This is the same person who once called me and told me she had 'totaled' the car by hitting a deer when in fact she had cracked the plastic bumper cover and put a dent in the fender and front corner of the hood. She even still had a working headlight! For the last couple months, she had been occasionally mentioned a noise when she turned in her vehicle but despite driving it several times myself, I hadn't heard or felt anything abnormal. Now with that background, let me take up the script again.

Because the sound level in the deli was pretty high, I asked her what kind of noise she was hearing. She told me to hold on a second while she puts the car into gear and pull forwards and backwards in her parking spot in the parking garage she was inside. After listening but not hearing anything over a cellphone in a noisy deli, I was just about to say no when the tone of her voice changed yet again. In the next thirty seconds, I heard her say a few things like "Oh no!" with a "there is something hanging from it" before the line went dead. I tried calling back but there was no answer so I left a message.

My first thought was that the CV joint had failed. That might explain the noise she had been hearing and since it is an all wheel drive vehicle, she could probably limp it back the four blocks to her apartment and let me deal with it when I got up there later that evening. But it was Friday and the time was ticking if I was going to have to get it towed somewhere if whatever was wrong rendered it undrivable. So I called her voice mail again and told her to call back ASAP so that I could figure out what was wrong and make necessary arrangements if needed.

After my wife called down a bit, she called me back and I asked her to take a photo with her cellphone of the dangling part and send it to me. (This is where the modern technology comes into play.) A few minutes later I got the photo above and my heart sank. It definitely wasn't drivable. What you see is the lower control arm laying on the ground with the driveshaft poking through it obviously ripped from where it should connect to the transmission. I'm guessing that the ball joint on the lower control arm failed allowing the control arm to fall onto the ground. That was the noise that my wife initially heard when she called me. Now the vehicle was using the driveshaft as a support member, something that it is not designed to do, and so when she was moving back and forth to demonstrate the noise over the phone, it is what broke with a bang.

Long story shorter, I don't have the tools nor the means to fix it up in the urban jungle so my decision came pretty quickly. I lined up a tow truck to haul it to a repair shop to get it fixed. I had no way of getting a vehicle up to my wife in the urban jungle by myself, she needed a vehicle and I wasn't really wanting to spend our day off driving up there, picking her up, driving back and then both of us driving back up there only to repeat it again the next week when her car was fixed. I started looking into rental cars when the repair shop called back about an hour later saying they could fix it and have it ready by the following morning, a Saturday. Excellent.

Saturday morning we picked it up and all is good in the world. I'm glad that my wife hadn't been going down the interstate at 70 mph when that all decided to let loose. I'm glad she wasn't in the middle of a busy road or halfway to an upcoming drive trip to Texas when it let loose. She was turning into a parking space in a parking garage when it let go which is about as good as it could get. It was out of the way and she was only four blocks from home so she wasn't stranded. So now it is fixed and I'm broke, or at least I will be when I get my next credit card statement.

9 comments:

Vince said...

Darn good photo. I hadnt realised they were that good.

Ron said...

ouch... yeah, that ball joint has seen better days...

It almost looks like the nut came off of it... from what I can see, it doesn't look separated.

I always cringe when Mel calls me. Especially when she has that "the car is toast" voice...

Ron said...

Oh, I take that back... the nut is probably just off the edge of the photo, on the bottom. It probably did separate, that's a lot more common than losing a nut.

Ed said...

Vince - It certainly beats the old way of having my wife try to describe what she is seeing 150 miles away.

Ron - I thought the same thing but since I was too far away, I never got to see the actual root cause. The mechanic said the ball had lots of wear on it along with the connecting link.

Vince said...

I've never really understood why they put a jesus nut on a con'rod-balljoint. That's a design that's just asking for it. I don't care if it's a crown nut with a split key.

Ed said...

Vince - I have heard of a Jesus ring but never a Jesus nut. I had to look it up in Wikipedia of all places to figure it out.

R. Sherman said...

By the time we've been married twenty-five years, I expect I will just sense something without her evening calling.

Actually, that sixth sense comes at about 10-15 years.

Cheers.

sage said...

We do live in an amazing world as witnessed by that photo; but it's still a fallen world as witnessed by your wife's car breaking.

geri said...

Ed, you need to give me your phone number just in case my car breaks down too, oh wait, my cellphone doesn't have a camera lol

I think that's pretty cool though!