That's a crazy amount of work for a seemingly straightforward maintenance task. You have to wonder if that was a design oversight (albeit, a biggie) or something done on purpose so Chevrolet could make money on regular maintenance jobs. Either way, big monkey design move. Thanks for sharing.
It certainly does seem odd, and it also seems deliberate. This is certainly a maintenance task that is expected to occur many times over the life of the car. Whether the owner changes the bulb itself -- quite unlikely -- or pays stiff labor prices to have a shop change the bulb, this ends up a very owner-unfriendly design.
This is completely unacceptable, especially in an era when design for recyclability (see our July cover story, "Design for Recyclability") and design for safety are engineering imperatives. Similarly, design for easy repairability and maintenance should be on the list. I realize this is not always easy -- even on my 2004 Sentra, when I had to change the driver's side headlamp recently, I had to loosen the battery straps and move it back so that I had clearance to get the headlamp out. But that's a very minor deal, compared to taken the whole darn bumper off.
The writer mentions a 2008 Malibu, but the models from the 60s and 70s were the real beauties. I remember them fondly. They were made in an era when it was still possible to fix a lot of things in one's car, before so much of the controls became electronic.
I've also have trouble fixing things under the hood in my 1996 Sentra, and outside it, including headlamps. Under the hood, the main problem seems to be that starting in the 80s, everything has gotten jammed together to make the entire envelope smaller. That gives the mechanic less room to move and makes it a lot harder to find things. I routinely have to tell my shop mechanic where the tranny dip stick is located, since its knob is buried half way down into the engine compartment and "helpfully" colored black.
DFERAM (design for easy repairability and maintenance)? I'll vote for that.
I'll vote for DFERAM as well. In this case, they had to be conscious of the design and its implications for repair. I'd love to know the logic. Was it easier to manufacture the car with this design? Were they intentionally throwing pricey work to shops? That doesn't make sense. Or was it simply the belief that owners don't work on their own cars any longer, so it doesn't matter whether the car is designed for DFERAM.
Don't wax too nostalgic for "the olden days." Yes, routine engine maintenance was possible (and required VERY frequently compared to today). BUT... there were whole areas of the car that were just as inaccessible as the Malibu example. I was (and still am) a radio ham; my first car was a 1957 Buick Special. Of course, it had an "entertainment system" (aka AM radio). Of necessity, it used vacuum tubes, which of course needed to be replaced about as often as the various light bulbs. This was no simple task! The running joke among those of my friends who dabbled in car radio servicing was that if you went to see the factory, the very first station on the assembly line put in the radio! Everything else followed, and to get to the radio had to be removed in order! This was almost literal truth: Step 1 was to remove the top piece of the dashboard, which invariably incurred a few skinned knuckles trying to get to the mounting bolts while "sitting" upside down in the front seat, head and arms up under the dash. After completing this, and wrestling the long (and heavy) dash assembly out of the car, you had to try the reverse posture, head against the windshield, arms down into the "guts" under the dash, to remove the radio mounting bolts, disconnect the in-line fuseholder, pull the antenna and speaker connectors, etc. THEN you got to schlep the 15 lb or more radio up and out, remove the cover plate screws, find the bad tube(s), put it back in, reconnect it, and fire it up to see if it was fixed! Also, I was part of the old Civil Defense group (we provided both rescue squad and communication support as a police/fire department auxilary). So I designed a converter for our VHF (46MHz... oops, MC) local emergency communications frequency so I could hear calls for assistance. Of course, installing THAT was just as hard as removing the radio, PLUS finding room, power, and a mounting mechanism for the extra box! It actually worked pretty well, and outlasted the car (the A-frame supports for the front wheels both collapsed one day due to winter-salt corrosion). So, just another case of "the more things change...."
That is an awfully lot of work for a headlamp bulb. However, it probably is a balance between reduced manufacturing costs (something driven heavily by the asian imports) and service life. What shocks me as you had to replace a headlamp on a 2008??? Halogen bulbs have a very long life. I have 10 year old cars that still have their original headlamp bulbs in them. Most people will never have to change a headlamp bulb, very few will every have to change one more than once. Given the life of these bulbs, this may be considered acceptable service labor. As for sparkplugs, it's not just GM (know your cars better), it's pretty much every manufacturer with a tranverse V6. V6's and front-wheel drive with today's cab-forward designs are just not a good match. But again, considering that tune-ups are now every 100,000 to 150,000 miles as opposed to the every 20,000 they used to be, this is not so unreasonable. The total time required to do these maintenance items has actually decreased, not increased. Think about it. And if you learn a few tricks and are good with a wrench, they actually aren't half as bad as they sound.
You must be kidding. Any cut price auto-parts store will sell you cheap H7 halogen bulbs (I could mention brands, but I won't) that wouldn't stand 5 hours of continuous use, and barely last 6 months in normal service. Stay away the low cost! In my Peugeot, changing a bulb in the car wasn't much different that in a light fixture in the house.
@PGDION: The life of the bulb is a good point. My car (2005 Beetle) had problems with bulbs (brake lights and directionals, too) going out, then coming back. Sometimes a little tap to the lens makes them come back on, sometimes it didn't, then it was back to the dealer. Doesn't seem to matter where the replacement bulbs came from, they don't last.
The right directional blinks really fast when the headlights are on, normal when they are off?!?
I had a '71 Bug that I fixed absolutely everything on myself. This new one is a huge disappointment.
This is one of the reasons I do not purchase vehicles made by the big three anymore. They do a lack-luster job of designing the parts that really matter, and focus almost entirely on the fluff features inside the cabin space. While they have beautiful body designs, the parts that matter are really poorly designed though. Timing belts that need to be replaced every 60k vs. my 2001 honda civic every 110k. Starters and Alternators that at best last 50-60k. GM is especially notorious for designing parts to increase dealer profitablity in repairs and routine maitanence.
If you want a vehicle that was designed for ease of assembly and repair purchase a Volkswagen. Volkswagen intentionally designs their vehicles to be easy to assemble and repair in an effort to create a better quality design.
How can a car go through all that development and end up with this as the best design. Doesn't someone somewhere like to work on their own cars and like to fix this stuff and realize that there are others out there that like to do the same. I just really want to believe that somebody would have that much knowledge and NOT build a car like this.
While design for easy repair and manufacturabiltiy seems like an obvious no-brainer, I don't think it's addressed formally as a process and design requirement in many organizations, as crazy as that may be. I think with increased regulations around Vehicle End of Life and some of the electronics regulations like RoHS WEEE in Europe, there's more of a focus on this. In fact, most of the major PLM platforms are building out their suites to address capabilities and workflows around design for maintenance and manufacturability.
I agree that it may not be done that way. But I think manufacturers do need to think that way. They need to take a couple seconds and think about replacing some of those common components that are going to be replaced. Even if the specification isn't the do it yourself consumer, they should at least be thinking about service cost.
I am pretty sure magazines report on the cost of repairs during the first years in service and I would hope this car scored low.
I remember Ford announced in the mid-to-late 90s that owners could no longer work on their own cars, that the vehicles were too advanced and required tools (computer programs) that average owner does not possess. One would guess cars are designed now with that in mind.
But even given that, they're making it difficult for the shop as well.
Back to an early reply: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. It COSTS the manufacturer MONEY to design and build a user-servicable vehicle and it MAKES MONEY for them to do it that way. What they are really working towards is a totally throw-away car. They don't want their stuff to be rebuilt, re-used or resold. Just take that 3-year old car to a recycle site, drop it off (maybe you'll get a few bucks for it) and head over to the new car lot. By the time the makers get to this point no one will give you anything for it as a trade-in...even they will take it to the recycler. Market manipulation: It's a beautiful thing.
Just get a Chinese $15.00 hot-knife from Harbor Freight, and cut your way through the plastic parts, begining with an 8 in hole inside the wheelwell, just behind the headlamp bulb, until you get to the bulb, replace and stuff the empty spaces with empty groceries plastic bags, reattach only the inner fender piece that you cut, to protect the inside from wheel water spray, holding it with tape and then use some silicon glue to do the job, make sure everything is clean so the glue will work right, remove the tape when silicon is dry, and complete the silicon sealing where the tape was removed.
DONE the REDNECK way in 15 minutes. Very effective. Show them who is the boss.
This solution shows a higher level of proficiency than the GM engineers.
Worried about the car..., judging by the way they are built today (like disposable junk), when the headlamp bulb burns, the whole car is just a bunch of twisted and cracked plastic and metal parts junk that is worth less than 1/10 of his dealer price, and has just a few years of useful life left in it, before it ends in a used car lot, the hands of a high school teenager, totalled in a fender bender or the junkyard
(No this cars are not suitable for destruction derby use, don't even think about it, consequences will be terrible)
So don't worry, planed obsolescence will take care of it and besides... the hole cant be seen from outside unless you stick your head in the wheelwell.
Replacement bulb (WallMart has the cheapest ones)
Hacksaw (just in case things get stubborn; use with care)
Electric Cinese Hot-kinfe (from your friendly neighbourhood Harbor freight store)
Duct tape. (will cost you nothing if you already have a roll laying around)
Silicon glue. (caulking compound may also work and you can finish the tube in your bathtub or around your kitchen sink)
A college buddy of mine worked for Collins Radio (now Rockwell Collins) in maintainability. He would check to see how many different tools were needed to disassemble a radio, that the diodes were al facing the same direction (where practical), etc. He was not welcome in many departments as a visit from him would probably mean a redesign. They were and still are known for their quality equipment and that commitment to maintenance was a key part of that reputation.
He eventually did get out of that job but still kept the reputation (his initials were GDB and the first two letters were representative of an expletive, you can fill in the additional letters).Regardless of his reputation, his was a integral part of the design effort that kept the company on bidders lists for demanding customers. Maybe we as consumers just aren't so demanding anymore.
To rkinner: There are many industries who need your friend (or someone who can play the same role). Web sites come immediately to mind. There are many, many websites that are so terribly cluttered that they actually prevent the visitors -- who they so desperately seek -- from finding what they need. And what about wristwatches? How many of us have wristwatches that we can't re-set because we can't figure out the sequence of buttons that need to be pushed? Couldn't they eliminate a few needless features and make their products simpler? Sometimes, I wonder if anyone -- anyone at all -- has tried these products before companies push them out the door.
And we wonder why they lost so much market share in the last 30 years? I've heard about these kinds of stories out of GM owners for years. One model requires loosening the motor mounts and jacking up the engine to change a spark plug. Uggg!
I learned how to drive in my father's 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan. Using today's dollars, he paid over $85,000 for it.
After about one year, the radio light burned out so we couldn't see what station it was on at night. During a regular oil change service, he told the Cadillac dealer to replace the radio light. They said it would be ready later that day.
When we pick up the car, the bill was $3.50 for the oil change and lube, $0.12 for the new radio lamp, and $150.00 labor for changing the bulb. They had to pull the stearing wheel, the entire dashboard, the unmount the radio chassis to get to the bulb. That's over $1,000 in today's dollars. Perhaps GM does this to keep their service people busy. You'd think that after so long they would get a clue.
My dad told me Saturday that replacing the lamp on his 13 year old Avalon required removing the bumper. I didn't believe him.
I had my own experience with a 1998 Nissan Pathfinder. I have small hands and still couldn't properly seat the bulb in the headlamp. When I got the car inspected it failed as I actually didn't realize it wasn't aligned well (didn't shine it on a wall to check). They had to remove the battery to correct the alignment in order for the vehicle to pass. Told me that was normal operating procedure for replacing the drivers side headlamp bulb on the Pathfinder. Fortunately they didn't charge me.
I thought my 2005 VW Beetle was bad. The whole headlight assemble slides out the front of the car after you loosen this plastic circular sliding lock ring. I'm sure the lock works great when the car is new and clean but after a few years of weather it gets dirty and gritty in there and it doesn't slide as well.
Just as described in this article, the manual says "take it to the dealer" but I read how to do it online and changed it. The second one to go coincided with some warranty work so the dealer did it for me. That bulb burned out again (it seems to burn out bulbs frequently) and I did it myself last week. However, it looks like the mechanics broke the lock ring because the little thumb handle snapped right off when I put some pressure on it. With a lot of jiggling and swearing, I got it out and replaced. Managed to get it back in but it's not in all the way and I doubt if I will ever get it out again.
What do you expect, when the auto companies and their outside contracted design companies lay off, or let go under early retirement plans, all of their experienced designers? It was bad enough before, but expect to hear even more horror stories like this, most of which are likely to be stupid oversights, not caught early enough in the design process.
It's even easier to mess up when using a computer aided design system for your design as most of these people have seldom actually worked on cars, so as long as the initial assembly sequence works, everything is fine... By the time you reach your initial physical prototype stage, it may be too late to change things, even if you're smart enough to recognize now that there may be a problem.
That's not to say that some of these "gotchas" aren't fully intentional, aimed at bringing in more service dollars for the dealers. The automaker's mandate is only to get most of the vehicles past their warranty period without major service costs. After that, any expensive repairs that can be "driven" to the dealerships just put more money in the dealership's pockets, or perhaps "encourage" the owner to buy a new vehicle "now" rather than later. Not a bad thing from their point of view, though one suspects that the next new car they buy won't be the same model, and maybe not the same brand...
This is not unusual for G.M.. I had a 1978 Camaro that required the removal of the right front fender to replace a heater hose. There are many other nightmare stories out there on other models with various design glitches that make major work out of a simple task. I have found that the most common issues generally revolves around the use of a shared engine in various models. Unfortunately cars today are designed for assembly and not for service, a practice that needs to be reviewed by all manufacturers. In my humble opinion servicabilty is a very important part of car design and is currently being overlookedor just plain ignored. I remember the ad campaign from Ford for the 1970 Pinto. It was advertised as being completely owner servicable and was puposely designed that way. Dealer labor rates are approaching $100/hr and the simple task of headlight bulb replacement should not require a trip to the dealer. Maybe if the buying public screams loud enough they will listen.
I had the same experience above but before I removed the bumper i went back to O’REilly’s and asked if anyone knew how to change the headlight. One of the guys went out to my car and right above the headlight adjustment screws are two black plastic tabs. He told me to pull up on those. I had to use a screwdriver for leverage but when both tabs were pulled up the whole bulb assembly pops right out and changing the bulb was a breeze. Hope this works for you.
It is often the case that the OEM changing process is far more complex than the one that others may use. Just like the ORielly's procedure, I have done changes based on what I could see, which usually was much less effort than the dealer procedure. So don't give up hope just yet.
I would offer that heater hoses are not a wear item and so they could reasonably be expected to take more effort to replace. But we know that a headlamp bulb will fail eventually.
Service writers and mechanics at the dealer knows this. There is a book rate and the actual rate. You are charged the book rate, but mechanics knows all the short cuts to do it faster. Like the one poster who said you can get to the bulb from the top. Probably that is what mechanics do, but you are still charged the book rate.
In my design job, with the current economic environment, schedule and cost is #1. Ease of maintenance is nice to have. If it does not affect the bottom line, it does not get done. Don't meet schedule and cost, and you are out the door.
I think consumer report or some other magazine should concentrate on replacement part cost, ease of maintenance as well as reliability. If nobody shine a light on it, consumers are not going to get it. Consumer report's reliability index probably did more to advance automotive engineering than any other technology advance. I would never buy a car without looking at that. Very very accurate.
I knew an elderly lady who owned a mid-70s Cutlass Supreme and some how had cracked her rear brake light plastic lens. I thought I'd do her a favor and replace it for her, went down to the local dealer and got the lens for about $10. Then the fun began, you couldn't get at the brake light assembly from inside the trunk, you had to remove the nice big bumper to get at the mounting screws. Fortunately, a yard handyman was there to help because it was a two man job to get that bumper off, one to hold it up while the other one got under the car and removed the bolts.
At least changing the lens was fairly easy once the bumper was off but it took both of us to get the bumper back on again.
I own a 1974 Gran Torino and changing any of the lamps, front or back, is pretty easy and straight forward, so are the spark plugs. I don't see any valid excuse for doing it any other way except to please the money grubbing pencil necks and the bottom line.
I've heard plenty complaining from the mechanics who have to work on these design nightmares and they don't seem to like it much more than the customers. Who wants to have to take apart whole sections of a car to do simple maintenance like changing spark plugs or lamps?
A tangential, but related, aspect is not things that aren't repairable, but things that are half-broken yet impossible to fix. For example, I had a light-sender box hidden in the truck of a 1988 Toyota Camry, which I was driving up until a few years ago. The box was some kind of interface sitting in the middle of the brake circuit. Problem was, the copper contacts were all half-burned out from 15 years of use. So every other day I'd get a dashboard indication that my lights were out. I knew that meant I had to go into the trunk, pull the side panel out (not hard; it was some kind of plastic board) and jiggle the interface box back into operation.
Some of these stories remind me of a recent fixit odyssey with our 1995 VW Jetta. When the driver's side front door latch broke, it took several days while we diagnosed the problem and then several more days while we figured out a solution.
My husband had to remove the interior knobs, the door panel, the inner handle assembly, a speaker and its wiring, the inner plastic lining, and even the window glass, though he took the shortcut of leaving the glass frame assembly in place and working around it. For the latch proper, we had to detach mechanical, electric and air-pump powered security devices, and we had to determine a method for preventing the alarm system from going off during all this disassembly (one that usually required four hands). The air-pump switch assembly controlling the other door locks was obviously a later addition. And let's not mention the delicate process of removing and replacing the mechanical lock assembly.
Most of this hassle was caused by the fact that the available replacement latch carried none of the auxiliary security items.
Although Volkswagen probably couldn't have made the door's innards much more accessible, once my husband got inside the door, we discovered that what had originally been a simple design had been added on to again and again until it was ridiculously complex. Apparently, it hadn't occurred to anyone at Volkswagen that a) such repairs would ever be needed, and/or b) that the whole thing should have been redesigned to accommodate all of this new hardware, including considering its function when disassembled. For instance, it would have been nice to be able to disarm the alarm system first to prevent if from going off while working on the door, and it would also have been nice to be able to disassemble the airlocks last, so the car could be safely parked in front of our garage-less house. As it was, we wired the door shut every night with a coathanger and parked the car with that side facing the house.
Horrible, consumer-unfriendly designs are nothing new out of Detroit or any other international center of automotive design 'excellence'.
I bought a used 1997 Plymouth (Dodge/Chrysler) Grand Voyager... it had its flukes, but didn't seem bad... at first... As the repairs were required, I quickly found out what a money pit it was... I loved how it required both US/Imperial(/SAE?) standard and Metric/ISO socket sizes... I once went to change out the oil pan gasket and found that of the screws holding the oil pan on, one of them was above a motor mount on the bottom of the engine, without clearance to access it, even from the side with an open-end wrench. The previous owner must have found this out, too, since someone had tried running a bead of sealant around the edge of the oil pan when the gasket had leaked previously. Another time the water pump needed to be replaced. In order to do that, I thought I might get away with simply removing the serpentine belt then a few bolts... however, I quickly discovered that the actual pump was behind a thick iron/steel plate mounted to the block and a motor mount, behind the serpentine belt. I had to lift the engine and use a second set of jack stands to support it while I removed the pulley off the drive shaft so I could remove this plate... while I was there, I decided to change out the timing belt as well since I didn't want to make a habit of this. It ran okay for about another year before the transmission went out... after replacing it with a dealer factory rebuilt, it ran for another year or two before electrical/starter problems arose... after replacing the battery and starter and the plugs, it ran fine for a few weeks, then died... I finally isolated it to the distributor, and was told that the distributor ran for about $1200 and had been discontinued... I found rebuilts and replacements at auto parts stores for about $400, but eventually decided that it wasn't worth it and donated it to charity (vowing never to buy another Chrysler product)... it was auctioned off for less than $300, which was less than the value of the Goodyear Eagles on it.
However, in fairness, before the van, we had a 1997 Dodge Intrepid... I actually liked that car (despite the dual socket set requirements and a problem with a driver's automatic window malfunction when it got wet one evening). While living in the North Houston metro area, in the morning I was trying to cross about 6 (8?) lanes of sporadic heavy traffic on FM 1960 near I-45... I sped across the street and started to make a turn but took it too fast... At the corner was a woman (alone) in a Daewoo (I didn't know they made cars too, having known them to make machine tools). The front driver's side corner bumper hit their driver's side front bumper... their bumper (and whole front end) collapsed... the hood was popped up, the bumper to the wheel well was crushed... it had good crumple zones since the driver was unhurt... I had braked and I estimated that my actual speed was probably down to 15 mph at impact... The damage to the Intrepid was a small dent in the plastic fender (which popped out with a good smack with a rubber faced mallet) and the flimsy/cheap headlight mounting/alignment frame had broke (but the headlight was okay). However, a few weeks later the car was stolen, and the insurance money (for replacement value, minus deductible) was used to purchase the aforementioned van.
My initial reaction on reading this post was 'No way - the guy is making it up'.
So I tromped off and checked out the stories on the internet. Holy Smokes! What an orgy just to replace a headlight bulb!
In defense of the engineering staff, I suspect that all of this is NOT an example of incompetence but rather a result of a lot of nasty tradeoffs including very aggressive scheduling.
Still I would not like to try replacing that bulb. In fact, I wouldn't - the old flexibility is no longer there (bifocal glasses don't help the situation either). Nope, I would have to head out down to my mechanic and have him change ALL the bulbs in one go.
Now we know why GM needed to be bailed out. Incidentally, check out spark plug replacement on some of the newer model cars -- in more than a few cases the engine has to be partially removed. Can you say "designed for obsolescence?"
As an aside to gafisher , my friend's 1986 Camaro had an impossible to get to #8 sparkplug. He overcame that with a hole saw on the driver's side wheel well (easier than dropping the engine). So this is nothing new for GM.
As far as the headlight replacement, $150 doesn't sound so bad. Toyota charged me $300+ on my wife's Avalon and all they had to do was pull the battery. Oh yeah, the HID headlight itself was an additional $175! I'm just glad they didn't have to replace the ballast, it was over $1,100. For that I'd have to bend over and take it like a man.
I think this is more a case of uncoordinated design rather than an intent to gouge users for maintainence dollars. I have never participated in the design of an automobile, but I sure have run into cases where someone down the line has altered a design to make his/her job easier without regard for the function of the completed design. As work continued the next guy suited his step to allow for the altered design and when work was complete and everybody was patting themselves on the back, the altered design was buried.
I work in the tool & die industry and it is amazing how a errant step or poorly thought move by a machinist on one component can adversely affect the integrity of the completed die. It may never be caught until failure or in the course of routine maintainence, then BANG, "Who is the idiot that designed this?"
I am sure that exact scenario did not come into play here, but I feel confident that someone was only concerned with his/her part of the project and if a project coordinator existed, the alteration was not caught and made its way into production.
Jack up the car? Remove the wheel? Remove the wheel-well liner? That's incredible. The irony is that the Malibu was supposed to be one of the vehicles that would help restore GM's reputation for quality.
Yes it is ridiculous. I suppose GM thought this would be hidden from the owner, since most cars these days get fixed in the shop and not at home. So the owner experiences it as a higher than expected repair bill. We may have an unusual audience here at Design News, a group more prone to six their own cars.
Good point, Rob. I'm sure you're right that GM thought it would be hidden from the owner because so few people fix their own cars anymore. Either way, though, it seems like a loser for GM. Either the handyman customer is appalled, or the non-handy customer is presented with an out-sized bill. What could they have been thinking?
The comment about removing the rear seat to fill with gas made me laugh. My father had a 37 Chevy truck on the farm. Guess where the gas tank was... under the seat. To fill the tank, you swung the (bench style) seat cushion forward, and there was the filler cap, right in the center of the tank. Obviously nobody stayed in the truck while it was being filled.
That's amazing, Jack. I haven't heard anything like that. I do remember gas caps behind the rear license plate as a kid. I can't remember the model or maker. I thought that was pretty clever. If you not aware it was there, you'd never find it.
A friend of mine had a GM suburban diesel. There is no way to drain the radiator unless you pull it out or drill holes through 2 layers of frame. We ended up just pulling out the frost plug heater and letting fluid go everywhere. What a stupid design. My Toyota truck is far from perfect but the Suburban made the Toyota look great.
I am pretty sure they put a tube down in the radiator to suck it out or something like that. The coolent was supposed to be the lifetime Dexcool. Go read on it if you want to see another GM disaster story.
Not going to mention any name brands but I was considering buying a popular German sports car, and decided to read the service manual. A basic tune - up, changing of the spark plugs required lowering the engine and transmission. Many of the service procedures required lowering the engine and transmission. I ended up buying one of the best engineered sports cars on the road. It's Japanese...
EXACTLY LIKE MY DODGE! Even something as simple as trying to drain the radiator is going to make a mess, thanks to "modern design" by monkeys of the worst class!
I have a 2002 Dodge Stratus R/T Turbo Sedan, the damn design is full of design "solutions" that make it a terrible car to service. I also have and still use an older Spirit R/T of 1991 vintage... Let me say that a complete radiator service takes me about four hours in the old Spirit, and that means removing the engine radiator, replacing all the hoses (coolant and heater hoses) and thermostat, and cleaning the radiator inside and out, backflushing the system and refilling and purging the air out. The 4 hour is from the instant I take out my tools to the moment I store them back and finish cleaning and be ready to use the car.
The first time I wanted to perform the same job on the newer Stratus, it took me NO LESS THAN 4 FULL DAYS!.- Lets looki nto it: First you have to drain the coolant without making a mess, but the damn Stratus doesn't have a drain valve, but a plug. This plug is not pointed towards the rear side of the radiator, but to the side, so that the plug gets above the radiator support menber, which has a 2" hole at 90 degrees, so that you have to carefully grasp the flimsy plastic ridge on the plug with a very small adjustable wrench in order to grasp it and then use a larger adj. wrench to turn it, praying that the "handle" does not break, leaving the plug inside the radiator side tank. Then you find that the discharging coolant splashes all over because it hits the radiator lower suppot member and you cannot avoid it. You CANNOT easily remove the radiator as in the older Spirit, because the radiator is bigger than the space above it, so that you have to completely disassemble the front fascia (bumper) together with the upper bridge that supports the hood latch, then you find that the engine radiator is assembled together with the other THREE radiators (Turbo Intercooler, Air conditioner condenser and Automatic Tansmission fluid cooler), so that the only way to easily remove the radiators assembly is when you remove the entire engine/transaxle assembly by dropping it down from the vehicle! There is simply not enough space to remove the radiators either from above or from below (only large enough space is to the rear, which means the radiator set was installed from the rear BEFORE the complete engine/transaxle was installed from below). Trying to extract the engine radiator alone means cutting UNOBTAINABLE rubber joiners that hold together the four radiators. That means that cutting those rubber joiners (that have arrow heads that prevent removing them, unless you cut them) is a bigger headache, since no dealer have replacements. So I was forced to leave the radiator in place and forget about being able to clean the outside of the tubes and fins. Then the hose clamps appear to be installed by a team of sadistic monkeys, which planned the worst possible orientation of the clamp tangs. Even with the help of a specialized set of flexible cable pliers, it took me more than a couple of hours to remove the four hose clamps, and a severe knuckle bruising, courtesy of the damn monkeys placing the hose conections in the most cramped spaces possible. But then I found that the damn thing refused to take more than half the coolant volume, thanks to the monkey designers placing the air purge valve FAR BELOW the upper coolant passages inside the cylinder head... Not even raising high the front of the car with a large floor jack was enough to allow me to purge the air out of the head. After several vain attempts to refill the new coolant inside the engine, the engine refused to take more than the first 5 of 9 quarts of coolant... even trying to "burp" the system by starting the engine and heating it for several minutes was useless. The only way I found to force the 4 remaining quarts inside, was to feed the coolant tru a 3/4" hose connected to the coolant/oil heat exchanger in the base of the oil filter, whis is located in the lowest part of the engine, and dropping the coolant tru a large funnel held HIGH above the engine bay (about seven feet high, using a ladder) so that the high fluid head actually forced the coolant with enough pressure and velocity in order to displace the air pockets inside the cylinder head passages. That was the only way to get rid of the air in this modern, Cab-Forward and aerodynamic, low hood vehicle! Even the thermostat replacement forces you to remove at least two quarts of coolant, since the head is above the thermostat housing. Need to change the serpentine belt? Be prepared to remove a plastic cover with many plastic fasteners, just to find that an engine support prevents belt removal!
In the end, I found Chrysler managed to totally mess the very good design of their 1991-1995 Spirit/Aclaim models and got a lousy design in their newer cars. Will I buy a newer Chrysler? NO WAY!
When my wife needed a new car, I placed MAINTAINABILITY high above style or electronic gadgetry... so I found that the only two cars available in Mexico that appear to have ample space and a logical engine bay design, were the oldest designs still available in 2011: the reissued VW Jetta generation-4, and the old Nissan TSURU GS-III that are truly old designs, way easier to repair and a deligt for the DIY mechanic. So lets "punish" the manufacturers of difficult to maintain/repair designs by purchasing older designed, better laid-out vehicles. Amclaussen.
Amcluassen: Your point about maintainability is a very good one, and often overlooked. Even most of us who take a pragmatic view tend to worry about reliability and not maintainability. I can only assume this is caused by the fact that so few people maintain their own cars. The kind of design that you cite here virtually forces the vehicle owner to take the car back to the dealership. Excellent point.
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