The grinding noise started as I backed out of the paddock garage at NCM Motorsports Park. Well, that’s probably not correct. At some point during what turned out to be a half-hour lapping session in monsoon conditions, my rear brake pad must have given up the rest of its low-cost lining and started contacting the brake disc directly. So it would have been grinding even as I entered pit lane and drove to the garage; it’s just that the noise of the weather was too much to hear it.
That was October 8th. In the nearly two months since then I’ve put about 1,700 miles on my Accord, passing the magic 66,666-mile mark in my fifty-sixth month of ownership. This morning I noticed that my right rear wheel was covered with fine-grained particles of iron oxide from the high-speed interface of iron disc and steel backing plate. Time to change the rear pads and rotors, even if it was twenty-eight degrees and cloudy outside. (No, I couldn’t fix my car in my garage like a normal person — I have 830 square feet of garage space and it is filled with two race cars, one Porsche 911, five motorcycles, and what looks like two tons’ worth of tires, wheels, and spare parts.) It took me a while to do it, mostly because I had to drill out the rusted-together setscrews that Honda uses to hold the rear discs on during the assembly process. Yes, that’s right: I made it through almost five years and perhaps a dozen on-track sessions on the original back rotors.
About two hours after I’d started, I was frozen but content. After all, I’d just saved more than nine hundred dollars. Or had I?
A few week ago, I took the Accord to my local dealership for a battery-sensor recall. I have zero respect for this shop; a few years ago, they tried to charge me for a tire rotation that they provably did not perform. Given world enough and time, I’d have taken my car to the dealer that actually does the work for which they charge, but it’s a 72-mile roundtrip and I can’t say that I’m all that worried about my battery sensor anyway. So I crossed my fingers, headed to the local shop, and left my car at the night drop. On the form, I wrote
IGNORE REAR BRAKE NOISE PLEASE THANK YOU
Then I went home, worked for a while, and went to sleep in a good mood because I knew that I was going to work late and therefore didn’t have to wake up until nine the next morning. Needless to say, the idiot from the dealer started calling me at 7:23AM. The sixth time he called, at 8:11, I picked up and was almost immediately deafened by the volume of his cheerful Hyderabad dialect.
“Yes, we inspected the brakes as you asked.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that. In fact, I wrote ‘IGNORE’ on the envelope.”
“Yes, well, we did inspect them, it was $34.95 for the inspection —”
“Which I refuse to pay, by the way.”
“—and it is very bad, very bad indeed. The rear brake is metal to metal.”
“I know that. It’s why I wrote ‘IGNORE’ on the envelope.”
“It must be replaced. The front brakes are aftermarket pads and they, too, must be replaced, along with the rotors. All of this is very vital. Finally, the battery failed our intensive testing. We will replace it with a battery that we are guaranteeing for a length of eight years.”
“What’s the total for all this?”
“One thousand, five hundred, and nineteen dollars. And fifty-two cents.”
“Alright. Here’s what I want you to do…”
“Yes, I am listening?”
“I want you to replace the battery sensor, per the recall. And the other things that you just said… Do you have the complete list of them?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Okay, I want to you do exactly none of those things. And I want to pick up my car this afternoon and not pay a dime. Do we understand each other on all counts?” There was a long pause, then,
“I am afraid we do.” Unfortunately for me, although I was specific to the point of what felt to me like rudeness on the subject of the brakes, I was apparently neither specific enough nor rude enough to be spared four more calls that afternoon, all regarding how I would be filling out my customer satisfaction survey.
When I picked up the car, I noticed without surprise that I’d forgotten to put the key for the security wheel lugs in the glovebox. Which means that my car was “evaluated” for a $34.95 fee (that I did not end up paying) without having the wheels removed. The tech just eyeballed the rotors and decided that everything needed replacement.
Luckily for me, I had pads and rotors waiting for me at home, picked up from Advance Auto at a total cost after discounts of $113. The battery was, of course, fine. The front pads were nearly new, installed by me in the spring. It was sheer profit-taking on the part of the dealer, and it forcibly reminded me:
a) why people hate dealers
b) why service, not new car sales, is the financial engine of the franchise.
The total dealer cost for pads, rotors, and battery would have been in the high three hundreds. A competent mechanic (which I am not) working indoors (which I was not) with all of the right tools (which I did not have) could have done all four corners of the car plus swapped the battery in an hour, for which he’d be paid about sixty bucks. That leaves $1,100 or so in pure profit for the store, on top of what they were being paid to perform the recall.
With 67,000 miles on the car, I’ve done one set of front rotors, three sets of front pads, one set of rear rotors, and two sets of rear pads. That’s not bad for a chronically underbraked and overpowered family car that regularly wanders onto a racetrack for various nonserious purposes. So far, no serious service has been required. At the 90k mark I’ll have the timing belt, drive belts, and water pump changed. Somewhere around 100k I’ll likely change the manual transmission fluid, swap out the shocks, and replace whatever bushings have disintegrated.
I’m just a month or two from having the Accord paid off. What I want to do is buy a new Civic Si in Energy Green before the remaining examples disappear from dealer lots. I’m not going to do it. Viewed objectively, my Accord does every single thing that a new Civic Si would do, only faster and with more space. The smart thing to do is to just keep driving my existing Honda after it is paid off. So that is what I’m going to do. After forty-seven years on this earth, I’ve finally become that bitter old man who drives a paid-off Accord around Columbus. There are many of us out there.
What I’m telling myself is that I’m going to use the extra $517 a month to buy an Indian FTR1200S. In reality I’ll probably spend it on racing. We will see.
It seems difficult to believe that I bought this car five years ago. The time really has flown. At the time it seemed like a stopgap, a sensible purchase to hold me over until I could make a non-sensible purchase. It turned out that my non-sensible purchase was, in fact, another Accord coupe. So instead of a slick German prestige car like my old S5 or my Phaetons I have a gaggle of Marysville Hondas. No complaints here.