2010-02-16

The long road to perfection, OR: How to go from happiness to despair in five easy steps


What you see here is the lower shock absorber mount in the left rear corner of the Yeller, which has been cross-threaded by use of an impact gun.

Surely you wonder, o my loyal reader, how it got to be that way, and which horrible revenge has befallen the hapless oafs who used the impact gun to damage my baby's new shocks?

Well, this would not be a horror story if we did not back all the way up to when everything was right with the world, and I looked about like this.

The shocks you see in the picture are causing the silly grin on yours truly's face, because they are a set of double-adjustable Koni Sports, purchased and delivered in December. These shocks are custom-valved, and were developed for TC Kline Racing a while ago. They were factory built in Holland as part of a special limited-production run, and I got them on clearance sale, when Koni was selling the few remaining sets.

My little heart was overflowing with joy in anticipation of handling improvements these dampers would bestow upon the Yeller Screamer. Not to mention that with each added dimension of adjustability come exponentially multiplied opportunities to screw things up! Guaranteed hours of fun for the whole family.

Well, last week I finally managed to drop the car at a mechanic's shop on the way to work. They are honest, hard-working men, who it turns out, sadly aren't quite used to working on cars made in the 21st century. I left the car with them on Monday morning, and they were done with the front end by the end of the day. They said that they'll do the rear end and the alignment on the next day, and so I walked home, all of 10 minutes.

Next morning, at 08:18 (I will forever remember the time!), I got a call from them saying they have stripped one mount on one of the rear shocks. My heart sank.

"Please tell me you are kidding me."

"No, we did. We really did strip the shock mount."

"Top or bottom?"

"Let me ask... [In the background: Hey, which is it, top or bottom?]" My heart is racing. If it's top, I am going to have to need to send the shocks in to Koni to be rebuilt. Car will be disabled for weeks, or will have to be reverted to stock shocks in the interim.

If it's the bottom, not all may be lost yet. But it's still very very very unpleasant, to have custom shocks, which aren't easily replaceable, damaged in the process of installation.

After what feels like an eternity, the guy on the phone says it is the lower mount. The one that you see in the picture at the beginning of this post. I try to impart on him how important it is not to make things any worse than they already are and implore him to not do anything until I speak with Koni tech support. He promises that, and I call Koni.

Koni tech named Paul answers the phone and asks how he can help.

"The mechanics doing the work on my car have stripped the lower mount on my brand new custom S2000 shocks, and I would like to know what options I have beside killing them all."

Paul sighs and says "Just kill them."

"But I don't want to go to jail!" I say. "What else can we do?"

Paul recommends that they cut off the stripped nut which is welded onto the mount, repaint the surface, and just use a new nut instead, without welding.

I relay this to the mechanic, and he says, they'll do that when the new OEM bolt gets there from Honda. The bolt also got destroyed in this incident.

It takes the bolt full 36 hours to arrive, which is not unusual for S2000 parts, and instead of doing what Koni said, they just use an insert in the stripped nut.

Before I pick up the car, I ask Koni for an estimate of how much it would cost me to mail the shock in and have it restored to like-new condition, with a new nut welded on and painted, and they come up with $120. So when I finally pick up the car on Thursday evening, I ask for a $120 discount, since this is how much I am out of, because they used a goddamn impact tool on my shock. They agree, and I drive off.

I notice that the usually very noisy front sway bar barely makes any sound at all, but don't worry about it too much.

A day passes, and I don't drive all that much, but then on Saturday morning, while driving into the steep driveway at my karate school I hear a heart-rending sound of metal straining, twisting, and finally tearing. I cringe inside, but park the car and go do the class.

After class, I take a look at the front right suspension, from where the awful noise came, and see with dismay that the brake line bracket of the damper is resting firmly on top of the sway bar end link, and the load caused the sway bar bracket to tear from the mount. Nothing looks right, and everything looks painful.

I limp the car back to the mechanic, show them the carnage and say that I will have the car towed to a different place now and that they will be getting the bill.

At that point, I don't know what else is broken, and the front suspension makes all sorts of bad noises going over bumps. I get her home and park. Call AAA.

AAA promises a flat-bed tow truck to be there within 30 minutes, and sure enough, 25 minutes later, a truck is there. But it is not a tow truck. The friendly guy is all chipper and tells me that they sent him to "have a look at the car," to see what is wrong with it. He asks me whether I know what it is, and helpfully suggests that I may not know what it is.

"I know very well what is wrong with the car," I say, and proceed to rattle off the known extent of the damage.

The guy says that a flat-bed truck can be there in 90 minutes. The shop where I intend to drop off the car will close in 90 minutes.

So I say "Thank you, but this won't be necessary. I will limp the car there myself. At 20 mph if need be. This car is going into the shop today, on a tow truck or under own power."

The guy says okay and drives off.

Carlota drops by with her own car trouble, so I offer her a ride to the shop in my hurt little Honda.

We are just about ready to go and the engine is running, as I get a call from AAA.

Apologies follow, and a plea to not drive a potentially unsafe car on public roads. Also a promise to get me to the shop before it closes at 3pm.

I agree to wait, though in my mind I am resolved to drive the car to the shop come 2:35.

Thankfully, it doesn't quite get that far.

The truck gets to my place around 2:30, I drive the car onto the trailer, and we get the Yeller to Vex Motorsports by 2:55.

The next work day, Monday, I get a call from a Vex technician, Jon, who says that nothing was broken apart from the sway bar mount bracket and a bolt and a nut holding it on one side.

Yay!

Jon also says that there is no way to run the Saner bar on full hard with these new shocks, because the brake line brackets will get in the way. So he set it to full soft for now.

It seems like I will need to get the Gendron bar to replace the Saner soon-ish, so I can run a stiffer setup.

So I pick up the car the same day and drive off.

The car feels kinda funny.

The mechanics at the first shop said that they had set everything to "full stiff." Why, I don't know. But the puzzled look on their face when I asked "Both compression and rebound?" told me that they could only have set the compression to full hard--at best, since they had no idea there were other adjusters.

Jason and I go to the City and back on I-280, and handling at speed is capricious, to put it mildly. Traction disappears on uneven surfaces, and at one point, the car just "floats" about a foot (30cm) to the left going over a bump on the highway.

So Jason and I decide to take a look at the settings. We get the car to his place, take the wheels off one by one and discover that:

  • Two diagonally opposing corners are set to full hard compression.
  • Two other corners are set to full soft.
  • Three of the four corners are set to full soft rebound.
  • The one corner which is set to full hard rebound also happens to be set to full hard compression.
That 'splains everything!

To establish a baseline, we set fronts to 3/5 stiff on compression and 2/3 stiff on rebound. And rears are 1/2 hard bump and 1/2 hard rebound.

To finish off this sordid tale, this Tuesday I went to the original shop, showed them the work order from Vex and got a refund for full cost.

Tomorrow the car goes on an alignment rack to make sure all is set to what it should be, and not stock settings or worse.

Sunday is the first event of the year, and the first real chance to test and dial in the car with the new setup.