Jason Lindquist (jlindquist) wrote,
Jason Lindquist

Automotive drama

The "change oil" light lit on the way home from Las Vegas, so I took the car into the Saturn dealer yesterday for the 30K service. It's up to 33K, but I take it in when the light goes off, about every 5-6000 miles, instead of every 3. The 33K service is just an oil change, the 30K is much more involved.

They tell me I need new front brakes. Pads, I'll believe. But no, rotors too!. Okay, I drive my car hard, but not abusively. Is it a defect in the factory rotors (covered under warranty?) Oh no. This is normal, I'm told. The Saturn L-series is a European-influenced design (no suprise, I know it's a variant of the Opal Vectra,) and uses European brake rotors to reduce warping and for better brake feel. Such rotors are made of softer steel and wear out much more quickly.

Well okay, they're designed that way. Great. So the replacements will be proportionally cheaper, right? Wrong again. They're still $100/apiece. Total cost to replace rotors and pads is $360 including labor, every 30K miles/18 months.

Now I'm pissed. Saturn positions itself as a manufacturer of quality automobiles at affordable prices, which are also easy and economical to maintain. Sticking expensive short-lived brake rotors on the car is not consistent with that philosophy. No, sorry, they're not sucking me for a full brake job every 18 months at that rate. No fucking way.

I checked the auto parts stores in town, just for a reference on the costs. Autozone could get the rotors, but not the pads--they're all "Not Yet Available". Napa could get both, but they're both expensive ($105/rotor and $70/axle-set of pads) and something they'd have to bring in from a regional warehouse, call it the next morning. The car is still under warranty, I'd like all the systems to stay that way, so I took it into Midas today.

Midas can get the rotors and pads--they're expensive, as they only have a single source for them, and no other car uses them. (Saturn introduced this brake design in 2002, go figure.) But here's the killer: The Saturn dealer told me my front brake pads were down to 0-5% of lining--below the 1/32" minimum spec'ed thickness. That struck me as funny--at that level, I should have heard the wear indicators squealing every time I stepped on the pedal.

There's a reason there was no squeal. The pads were only 50% worn. 6 to 7/32" all around. Saturn of Escondido lied to me. Spring Hill will hear about this. Loudly. But it has to be by mail. See, their phone staff has no technical knowledge--they just want to refer you to the service department of your local dealer.

Midas installed new hard-steel rotors which I expect to last a long time. (My old '93 SC2 is still on its original rotors, at 163K miles.) They beveled the pads and flushed the transmission fluid while they were at it. I'm giving strong consideration to moving all but Saturn-esoteric service over to them. On top of being honest with me, they're within walking distance of home. As opposed to the dealership, which is 15 minutes' drive and only offers sporadic shuttle service.

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