Saturday, October 25, 2014

Simply obscene

And no, I’m not talking about what happened on Parliament Hill this week.  The topic of the day is Ford Stealerships and for that matter, stealerships in general.

I’m likely a little more willing than the average consumer to buy online but, if I’m in the forefront of online purchasers, I believe there’s a tidal wave about to engulf conventional dealerships if they don’t wake up to the risk.  Yesterday I backed the Lincoln over a dirt ridge and ripped this thing open:


The “thing” in that picture is the evaporative emissions charcoal canister which some bozo/engineer thought it would be wise to locate under the trunk of the Ford panther series platform. Every manmade problem in this world can be traced to either an engineer or a lawyer …. but I digress.

The box that is now flopping loose below the trunk contains the evaporative emission control system.  I’ve had an encounter with it already so its operation is not entirely foreign to me.  And other than the colossally stupid location on this particular vehicle platform, I don’t really have any issue with the concept.  The way the system works – and its been on all gasoline vehicles since sometime in the 1990’s – is actually relatively simple.  The gasoline vapours which we used to smell every time we walked up to a vehicle on a hot day are now directed to a charcoal canister.  The fuel system is under a low pressure by means of a sealed fuel cap which effectively forces the vapours into the charcoal canister without letting them leak out into the environment.

If that was the extent of the system, eventually the charcoal would become saturated with fuel vapour and stop working.  So the rest of the system is a solenoid controlled by the engine control module (computer) which opens periodically to connect the charcoal filter to manifold vacuum.  All gasoline engines operate with relatively strong vacuum in the manifold which is what draws air and fuel into the engine.  When that vacuum is connected to the charcoal canister it purges the vapour which has collected in the canister and allows the charcoal to continue to do its work of absorbing fumes off the fuel tank.  Apparently fuel vapours were a major component of the city smog that those of us who are of a certain age can remember, not fondly.  All modern gasoline vehicles have had some variant of the above system for 20 years now so the fact that most of us don’t know anything about the system tells me that they are pretty reliable. 

The stupid location of the system on the Lincoln – did I mention it was designed by an engineer? – means that it gets full of dirt and assorted road crap.  That was why I even knew it existed.  Last summer it got plugged up with crap and the computer started throwing a check engine code.  Last fall I pulled it all apart and cleaned it up which got it working again and stopped the engine codes.  This time it has missing parts so, rather than just replace the necessary parts, I decided I would change out the entire assembly.

Tasca Parts online has the assembly for $231, plus freight of course.  I found it in various other places including eBay for about the same money with only the freight charges varying widely. 

canister The genuine FoMoCo photo, complete with Ford watermark. 

I also need a little connector which got ripped off in the incident.  It is ridiculously expensive – the best I found online was $32 which is just stupid considering its the size of a coke bottle top.  I expect it is manufactured in Taiwan and the original manufacturer gets something less than a dollar for it.


This morning I started phoning local Ford dealers to see if I could shop locally.  I phoned Preeceville first but they didn’t even have a message on their phone.  After about 10 rings I concluded that they likely weren’t open on weekends so I called Yorkton.  The nice man in parts took an incredibly long time to come up with a price considering that I gave him two genuine Ford part numbers.  Google or eBay will turn those part numbers into a price in less than 30 seconds but it took Dennis in Yorkton a couple of minutes before he came back with a price.  He wanted a mere $65 for the electrical connector.  And over $700 for the canister.  I asked him if those prices were negotiable and – while he did offer a slight discount – his idea of negotiable and my idea didn’t exactly mesh.

Now I don’t expect that local dealers will be equally priced with online retailers.  I’m perfectly willing to pay a premium to deal locally.  I’m not however willing to pay double and if the truth be known its not so much a percentage as an absolute amount that forms my barrier to dealing locally.  I’ll pay $50 to $100 for the “privilege” of dealing locally but no more and I’m not really sure why its worth any premium at all. 

If the local retailer stocked anything then I could justify paying extra for quick access to the parts.  The simple fact now is that nobody stocks jack shit locally.  So the online timeline may be the same or at worst only a few days longer than the local timeline.  There’s also the matter of professional advice and support but again, I’m not so sure the local person is better.  All too often I’ve gone up to parts counters and had the idiot on the other side of the counter tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about or that I didn’t actually want what I said I wanted.  Just yesterday I was forced into NAPA in Melfort where the old bat at the counter told me they didn’t have any panel mount volt meters.  I said “come on, you must have oil pressure gauges and voltage meters somewhere”.  She wandered over to the aisle that I hadn’t made it to yet and said “see, we don’t have one”.  I reached out and pulled the volt meter off the wall in front of her, pointed out where it clearly said “Volt Meter” on the packaging and then had to listen to her blather about how she thought I wanted something different.  That kind of experience happens all too often and I don’t appreciate having to work hard get around someone who presumably is there to help me.  So I’m not sure why I would willingly pay any premium at all for “local” access to parts.  The fact remains that I will pay more but increasingly I don’t.

Since I had an order coming from Tasca Parts I ordered the intermediate steering shaft at the same time.  There’s two u-joints in the steering column on the Lincoln, one up under your knees and the other exposed to the elements right next to the exhaust manifold.  Guess which one dries out and fails first?  I’ve squirted grease into it with a grease needle a couple of times now but that’s only postponing the inevitable.  It doesn’t sound like its very hard to change – one online mechanic says it took him less time than an oil change.  139 bux from Tasca – I wonder what the local stealerships would think it might be worth if I let them sell it to me and install it?

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