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Thursday, May 29, 2008


Tales From the Used Car Lot

Get a bunch of car guys together talking about automotive horror stories, and the worst monster you'll find in these tales is the Evil Previous Owner. The one who inflicted horrible forms of torture on unsuspecting cars by repairing the wiring with lamp cord and wire nuts, ignored that the temperature gauge always stayed pegged, or hacked up an irreplaceable dash panel to install a cheap Pyramid tape deck. Well, today I was witness to one of the worst Evil Previous Owner tales I've come across in a long time.

I was making some adjustments to my wife's mountain bike when an old gray Lincoln Mk VII pulled up at the stop sign in front of my house. Two teenagers got out and started looking under the hood. I walked over to see if I could help out. Turns out the brakes had frozen up. A.J., the owner, said the previous owner told him he'd put new brakes on it.

So after a few false starts (it seems it made a funny noise under the hood about the same time, but that probably wasn't related), I went and got a jack and lifted the rear off the ground. Sure enough, the left rear wheel wouldn't turn. So A.J. grabbed a tire iron and we took off the back tire.

This is where things got weird. It clearly had the original brake caliper. And there was something funny about the wear pattern on the rotor. It was all shiny on the inside, but the outer edge was rusty. Not just surface rust - it looked like it had spent a year at the bottom of the ocean.

Since they needed to get this car out of the street and lived less than a quarter mile away, I figured it would be safe to just pop the old caliper off and let it hang. Not exactly safe but it was better than a car that couldn't move at all. So I got to work unbolting it. Had to bang on a crescent wrench with a dead blow hammer to get one of the bolts off, like it had been on there for years.

Eventually the caliper came off. I couldn't believe what I saw: One of the brake pads was gone.

I don't mean the friction material had worn off and it wore down to the backing plate. I mean the pad was gone.

The inner brake pad simply wasn't there. The caliper piston was wearing directly against the rotor instead of pushing a pad against it. A.J. said he'd driven the car for about a month and it hadn't given him too much trouble, although the ABS light was on.

I've bought a few cars with lousy jury rigged repairs, and heard tales of countless others, but that's the first time I've seen an Evil Previous Owner try a brake job with only half the number of brake pads needed.



Great Blog! Very entertaining. I’ve just added you to my blogroll and will be a frequent reader.

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