Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The folly of preventive maintenance

My Porsche has once again started sounding like a diesel truck. The six-month-old rebuilt water pump is already giving up the ghost. The OEM water pump lasted 107,000 glorious miles before making this noise and leaking coolant all over the driveway. The replacement hasn't lasted a full 7,000.

And that my friends, is about the most perfect example of the problem I've found with preventive maintenance.

Don't get me wrong, I change my oil. When it comes to fluids and filters, I'm all for regular changes and flushes. In fact, I change my oil every 5,000 miles instead of the suggested 9,000, and I don't believe for a second Porsche has really discovered a "lifetime coolant" unless they're only predicting the lives of their cars to be around 80,000 miles. I'm also vigilant when it comes to hoses and belts. I do regular inspections, and if they show wear or soft spots, I swap them out.

But it's been proven to me time and time again when it comes to spark plugs and mechanical parts like the alternator, power steering pump, water pump, shocks, struts, etc., you're ahead of the curve to just let them run until they die.

I have some friends that will swap alternators every 50,000 miles just to be on the safe side. Mine currently has 118,000 miles on it and is still putting out a perfect charge. Am I smarter to spend the money to swap it now when in all likelihood the replacement unit is just as likely to die at any time as the original?

I once had to return two new alternators in a row because while they would pass bench tests at Autozone, they weren't charging when actually installed on the car. I've seen brake pads shear off of their backing plate just days after installation. I've installed rebuilt power steering pumps that leaked as badly as the units being replaced. And now, the six-month water pump. Sure, it has a warranty, but each redemption of that warranty comes with the purchase of new coolant, new sealant, and about four hours of time on my back under the car.

One of my friends on the renntech.org board argues that he can't stand to drive anything less than perfection and that constantly replacing the parts keeps your car in like-new condition. He also stockpiles tires when he finds them at a good price.

I say, if it's not broken, don't fix it.

No matter what part you're replacing, it's a game of Russian roulette when it comes to how long it will last. And as for stockpiling parts, a deal is a deal, but how do you know you'll ever need that part? How do you even know you'll still have the car by the time you need to replace the tires? I admit, that's a pretty safe bet with a Porsche since you're lucky to get a year out of the rear tires, but if you're out of town and get a flat, you're out of luck. Looks like you're rebuying those tires at whatever price the local shop wants to charge you. Meanwhile, those tires at home just keep gathering dust as they slowly rot - you've only got about five years before tires expire. After that there's serious danger that they'll separate and fly apart while you're cruising down the road.

Perhaps after we get healthcare reformed we can get some regulations and mandates in place regarding the quality of rebuilt auto parts. Are you listening Mr. President?

So that's just my two cents. You're certainly welcome to spend your money however you wish.
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