Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Wild History of my Headlights and Mechanics

I have had my current car a little over two years now.  I have a true love hate relationship with it.  I hate that it is always breaking down, but this car fits me.  When I first saw this car I knew it was meant to be mine.  It's a sedan, it's not low on the ground, it's sort of boxy, a little boyish, and very me.  I gave it a girls touch because I thought it was too masculine for a bit and those few touches have helped me not try to get into a car other then my own.

For the first year everything was absolutely fine with my car.  Right up until inspection was due when my check engine light started flashing on and off.  I was also having trouble braking.  I would brake and the car would slow down but give itself gas at the same time.  Scary.

So to get the car inspected I had to get that check engine light taken care of and I went back to my old mechanic Chris.  I won't mention the companies name, but if you're interested shoot me an email.  I went back to Chris because he had worked on previous cars of mine, they were friendly at the shop, and I trusted them.

They fixed my check engine light which apparently was a leaking gasket.  This was also the cause of the car accelerating on it's own and my antifreeze being used up quickly.  They also sent me to get the part.  They always did that.  I didn't find it odd until I started using a different mechanic.  Shortly after having this gasket replaced I was at the mechanics almost weekly.

I started having an issue with my right low beam headlight where is would just fade out like a lazy eye.  I could go into my fuse box and wiggle the fuse and it would pop back on, but the second the car moves it wiggled back off.  So the first time I brought this issue up Chris pulled the fuse and told me it was just a bad fuse and replaced it.  However, this did not solve the problem because it kept happening.  I kept finding myself back at the shop.  Chris kept "fixing" it until he told me that he can no longer temp fix it because the fuse box melted and he can tighten the prongs anymore.  Now I had no idea he was "temp fixing" it.  No idea.  I didn't ask for a temp fix.  I want my headlights to work all the time not temporary.  And if the fuse box is melting why wasn't that mentioned any of the other times I visited with the same problem.  On that note, why is the fuse box melted?  Who's fuse box randomly melts?  No one.

In-between headlight visits, I also had my starter die and lost two tires, one due to dry rot and the other due to a pot hole.  A few months later I lost another tire.  Now when my starter was dying I took the car to Chris who's boss told me the starter was about to go and to bring it back in a day or two and they would replace it.  I asked him if I should just leave it there since I had a ride home and my friend was willing to help me out the following day.  He told me the car was fine to drive for another few days.  The following day it died in the Kohl's parking lot.  I had to have the car towed because the owner led me to believe the car was safe to drive when it was not.  Now the tires and the starter are typical wear and tear repairs so it didn't really bother me too much.  The fuse box sent me over the edge.

So Chris tells me the next time the light goes out I have to get a new fuse box.  So I did and they are special order and not cheap at $400 a pop.  When I picked up the fuse box, because my shop doesn't seem to handle getting parts, I called to ask if they shop could bill me for the install.  I had been spending all of my disposable income on fixing this car for quite a few months and the cost of the fuse had eaten up what I had at the time.  The owner told me they had too many outstanding bills with other people so they were no longer billing anyone.  I have been using their shop for over five years and never once I have I not paid in full and in cash, yet I get to suffer because of other people.  I don't think so.

I started asking around work for a good mechanic and if they knew of one that bills.  My friends husband, who has an auto body shop, wound up installing the fuse box for me since it's a plug in.  In doing this he also cleaned my battery terminals, fixed my hood so it opens easier, and aligned my head lights all for very little.  He also informed me as to why the fuse box melted.  The right low beam fuse is supposed to be a 5 and somehow a 10 was in it's place.  The headlight was getting too much power and it fried the fuses around it and melted the fuse box.  Now how on earth did this happen?  Since the car was operating perfectly fine prior to my gasket leak and I would think that kind of a mistake would cause problems much quicker then a years time, I think Chris switched the fuse or one of his mechanics did it.  That or they were highly negligent.  Also very bad news.

So a month later I start having new problems with the headlights.  But this time it was due to the switch shorting out.  I was headed to a ski trip and my high beams were on as well as the low beams.  I was able to get them to shut off.  While on the trip my head lights started blinking at night while the car was off.  As if they had a mind of their own.  As the days went on I found that I could get the headlights off but the interior high beam light would not go off.  I didn't know how to get it off (other then disconnecting the battery) so I was just hoping every night that that tiny light wouldn't suck the life out of my battery.  One day at work I went to leave and my battery was dead.  I had already bought the a jumper battery but it wasn't giving the car enough power.  A friend came out to help me and it turns out my smart car has some kind of safety lock that does not allow you to switch it to neutral without power.  Dumb move Suzuki.  My jumper battery did give my car enough juice to let me put it in neutral.  So my friend was then able to jump my car and that night I disconnected the battery.

Over the weekend a friend came by to check it out and he checked all of my fuses to make sure each one was good and even tried switching relays.  From this I learned I could shut the headlights off by pulling the headlamp fuse out rather then disconnecting the battery, much easier.

I went about driving this way until inspection came up again.  My on and off again check engine light came back as well.  I had found a new mechanic that I was using for oil changes and I asked them about both the check engine light and the headlights.  Every time I went there the check engine light would shut off.  So they were not able to tell me what the code was.  As for the headlights, they were honest with me.  They said they did not have a electrical specialist and I needed to take it to a specialist because it's electrical and they did not want to play guess work.  Thank you STS for being HONEST.  The fact that they told me this solidified my trust in them.  Chris would not have done this in a million years.

STS referred me to someone.  I explained to the electrician what was going on and he replaced the switch.  I was then able to get my inspection done and I passed as the check engine light shut off again and directly afterward I came back on and it has stayed on strong since, flickering once in a blue.  The headlight problems were not over.  A month after having the switch replaced the same issue happened again.  The same electrician fixed it again and he had Suzuki take it back as though it was under warranty since it had not been a month yet.  One month later, it happened again.  This time I chose to not call the electrician since it's clear he had not fixed the problem.

Earlier this week the gas line in my car froze and that evening my low beams pooped out.  So I got stuck driving with my high beams on.  I was hiding in my car because I can't stand people with high beams on and it killed me to be that person on the road.  So now my headlights HAD to be fixed again.  I have been sort of running this car into the ground.  I pretty much gave up on getting it fixed and had decided I would get a new vehicle soon.  That time is not here yet, so I decided to take the car to the service center at the Suzuki dealership.  It was my last resort and the best decision I have made with this headlight problem.

I dropped my little car off early Thursday morning.  By two pm I had not heard from them.  I called and the super nice man at the desk said electrical issues take a long time to diagnose because they have to pin test each and every wire in the car.  He called me back at four pm to tell me they found the problem.  I had explained my long tale of headlight woe to them and it turns out somewhere along the line a second master power line had been installed in my car giving everything too much power and frying wires.  This would be why my headlight switch was smoking when I was driving to Thanksgiving dinner this year.  SMOKING.  Normally this would call for a brand new harness which is insanely expensive.  However, they had a car on the lot that was the same as mine and dead with the parts I needed.  So they were able to repair all of my fried wiring and remove the additional power line.  They even gave me a loaner car to use so I was able to get around AND I didn't have to go pick up any parts!  STS, by the way, has never asked me to pick up parts.  Also every mechanic I have used since Chris has ALWAYS made a point of showing me the old part after removing it and leaving me with the packaging from the new one.

I drove out to Brooklyn today after picking up my car and it's one of those moments where I want to pinch myself.  Could the headlight disaster actually be over?  Might they be fixed?  Might my fussy check engine light have anything to do with that additional power line?

When I had my inspection done STS had informed me that the codes on the check engine were both a dying thermostat and a cam sensor.  Now Chris had told me that for the check engine light to go on it means there are three codes, not two.  However, I have to wonder could the over power be why the thermostat is dying?  Is that why my cam sensor is crazy?  Driving home from Brooklyn this even the check engine light went off and STAYED OFF.  I am curious if it will continue to stay off, but I am pretty pleased right now.

The big question remains, how did the second power line get installed?  I know my friends husband did not do that.  Did Chris when the gasket was getting replaced?

I bet you understand now why I won't mention the name of the company.  Although I want too.  I have reported them on consumer sites.  You don't cause or improperly diagnose something like this and get away with it.  I wanted to write a complaint letter at the time, but I was well aware that I would be complaining to the guy that told me my car was safe to drive with a dying starter.

Moral:  If you have a good mechanic, keep him.  If you don't, do your research and go to places your friends recommend.  A dealership is not always the answer (as one has pulled some quick ones on a coworker of mine), but a dealership can be a good option.

Suzuki service will definitely be getting more of my business.  They even cut me a deal on the labor and parts.  So happy right now.

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