Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Putting on the Brakes

Last week my friend and neighbor across the street asked me to look at the brake line on her car as she had gotten stuck in a city about 30 miles away with no brakes and fluid all over the pavement.

Thursday and Friday I was working 12 hours each day on a project I was heading.
I couldn’t look at it until Saturday afternoon, after I did the two radio shows. When I got off air, I had her park the car in my garage/shop. I lowered myself to sit on a bucket I had put down next to the offending wheel, the rear passenger side. Getting up and down was aggravating to me because of the torn meniscus in my left knee.

I took the wheel off to look at the brake line. What I saw was a badly eroded brake rotor, a caliper bracket, no brake pad and a caliper piston hanging out of its cylinder.

To me, this actually seemed like a better repair option for myself because I would not have to crawl under the car and trace down a broken brake line. For her, the cost was going to be much more than anticipated because I would be replacing a caliper, a rotor, and brake pads.

Even with my military discount this was going to come to about $200.

I called my favorite supply store to see if they had what I needed in stock. They would not have all the components until Monday, so I told them I would have to look around. I called another store and asked if they had the parts. They replied that they had the caliper and the pads but not the rotor. They would have the rotor I needed at another store approximately 10 miles from the store I was going too.

Some back story regarding my relationship with this other chain
About 11 years ago, I did a ball joint job on my previous Taurus, and when I went to this particular chain to buy the ball joint, I decided to buy the lowest cost ball joint they had because I was unemployed, and this was during the economic crash of 2009-10. When I got the ball joint home, I could see that it was not the correct item. I went back to the store and we looked up the part number again for my vehicle and when they brought it out it matched the item I was returning exactly which meant it would not fit my car. I asked them to bring out the premium ball joint for comparison, and it was the one I needed. So, I bought the premium part and installed it. It took me a long time to do this repair because of issues I was having with compressing the Macpherson struts and other things happened to distract me from the work for periods of time. But I finally had it done and the repair lasted a good year before that premium ball joint from this chain store went bad and I had to replace again. By this time I was working again and it wasn’t so much the cost of the ball joint as a struggle to replace it again. I did not replace it with the warranty item but instead bought a MOOG replacement which lasted 6 more years before I retired the car. By retire, I mean I gave it to a friend’s daughter who needed a vehicle.

Back to the present.
When I went in the store to pick up the items they said they had, I asked them to check again to see if they had the rotor I wanted. The guy looked it up and told me that they had a premium rotor that was $20.00 more. I told them that I would have to go to the other store because the lady I was doing the work for was on a fixed income and $20.00 was important. He then told me that he would give me the $70.00 rotor for the $50.00 price of the one that I wanted to buy. I blessed him, and thanked him, paid, and walked out the door. Then I remembered the military discount and walked back in again and asked him to unring everything and ring it back up again saving another $20.00 for my friend, who is also a veteran.

It was now 5:00 PM on Saturday when I lowered myself to sit down again in front of the wheel and removed the caliper bracket and the rotor. There was no brake pad to remove. It took me about ninety minutes to figure out a way of removing the emergency brake cable from the caliper. No Youtube. Perhaps I should have created one. When I successfully removed it, I opened the box with the new caliper and immediately realized that even though he had looked up the correct part number, this was obviously a driver side caliper and not a passenger side like I needed or was described. It was late enough that I did not want continue that evening and I decided to finish the job after church the next day. I called the store and asked if they had the correct caliper and he assured me that they did.

After church on Sunday, we drove home and I got the old caliper to return for the core charge, the new wrong caliper and my wife and I drove to the store. The parts store was next to the Meijer’s grocery store we shop at, and Scherie said I should drop her off there, saying that she would run in quickly and buy some lettuce and yogurt for dinner. I dropped her off and told her to give me a call when she was ready. I’d be waiting in the parking lot.
I went in the parts store and asked for the caliper that they had said they would hold for me. It was sitting on a shelf with a post-it on it with my name. The part that I was returning ended in –11. This is important, as the box he pulled off the shelf for me was a -10, indicating the other side of the car.
I then returned the rusty old worn caliper to recover my core charge.

I paid and went to wait for my wife. I waited 2 hours, then I went into the store to look for her as she was not answering her phone. While looking, I got a text from her saying that she was outside where I had dropped her off. I went to the door to find her and a shopping cart of groceries. It seems there were all kinds of things on sale, particularly meats that are all going up in price but oddly enough were reduced in price that day. So, although I was upset that she had not texted me to clue me into the delay, I was happy that as a Proverb 31 wife, she was economically providing for the family, us.

It was now 3:00 PM. I told her that I would like to take her to the diner to get dinner because I was hungry and she was too. We were done in the diner at 5:00 PM. We went home and I changed into work clothes, went back in the shop, gingerly sat down by the wheel well, opened the box with my name on it, and instantly saw that I had somebody else’s rusty core charge return, instead of my new shiny caliper.

I called the shop again and asked if they had the correct caliper in stock still. They assured me that they did and that they would fix the situation. I went back and they looked up the part number, it ended in ‘-11’ (again), so I opened the box and although I felt it looked slightly different from what I had taken off, I could see that the emergency brake cable came in from the correct side this time. So, I took it home.

When I got home, I went in the shop and sat next to the car one more time.
I opened the box and I fought to attach the emergency brake cable to the caliper, and when I was finally successful, I proceeded to mount the caliper bracket on the bracket support. It would not fit. The cable was coming in at the wrong angle and interfering with the Macpherson strut. There was no way that I could mount this brake caliper properly.

I called the store again and asked if they had the parts that I had returned to them for the core charge. They thought that the truck might have left already with them but agreed to look. They came back and told me that they still had the core I had returned.
I boxed up the wrong part after removing it from the emergency brake cable (I was getting good at this!), and I went back to the store. We went and looked for the core I had returned, and we compared it to the part they had most recently given me. They did not match.

I asked him to see if they had a caliper that would match what I’d taken off the car. He looked up the part number, and sure enough it was the -11 part number that they had already given me twice, that had been wrong each time. He went and got it anyhow. We opened the box and it matched the part I’d taken off of the car originally. Hallelujah!
How can a parts chain have a part number that represents two different parts?
How can the parts chain sell me a box with a part number that does not describe that part I need according to their system and then really contains somebody else’s returns?

I went home again, and it was now 7:00 PM and once more I was too exhausted to continue working on this. You must understand that doing a brake job doesn’t exhaust me, that I was suffering from lack of sleep over the last few days with work related long hours and little sleep.

I called my younger brother Tom, a superb “wrench”, and told him this story.
After exclamations of unbelief he suggested that he’d like to visit and he’d assist in any way he could.
I needed someone to bleed the brake lines anyways and I looked forward to a visit from my favorite brother. Monday night, we reassembled everything, and it all worked well.

So I got the job done on Monday, the same day the correct parts would have arrived at my preferred outlet, O’Reilly’s.

I don’t think I shall ever shop at Autozone again. 


  1. Everyone knows of Murphy's law (If anything can go wrong, it will); however, few know of O'Toole's Corollary to Murphy's Law (Murphy was an optimist).

    I have heard that both Murphy and O'Toole were employed by Shell during the 1960's. However, today, they likely would be cabinet members for Biden.

    1. Murphy was overstaying his welcome. πŸ˜€

    2. Of course, that goes doubly for any transaction between me and automotive parts. It has been quite a while since I have done anything more challenging than replacing just the brake pads.

    3. Ed, Sounds like you were O'Toole's greatest supporter.

  2. Before I retired, I had a real parts man at the local O'Reilly's that I had done business with for decades. He'd shake his head at the incompetence, and ignorance. The best thing was he knew the potential problems, and would keep his customers from multiple trips.

    My experience at the other box parts houses hasn't been good. There are too many without experience, and only have a computer screen for reference.

    1. I find O'Reilly's has wrenches behind the counter.

      But it's the corporation that has a system that puts wrong parts in boxes, and I haven't had that happen at O'Reilly's.

  3. Good gracious, I got worn out just reading what y'all went through! But what a blessing you are for your friend. Well done you.
    I hope your knee is healed soon and you can get some sleep. I know I don't function well without sleep.
    God bless y'all. xx

    1. I saw the doctor today and it's back to work Monday for me.
      "Row well and live #42!"

  4. What a mensch! And with a wife that back a boat in tow with perfection down the launch ramp - what a pair!

    1. You, dear lady, bear trials that make mine as molehills.
      You and my wife are Proverbs 31.

  5. Mr. AOW and I went through something similar back in 1972 with our VW Bug, which needed a motor rebuild because it had thrown a rod. Both Dad and Mr. AOW were working full time, and the rebuild took longer than it might otherwise have.

    Three trips to the most reliable auto-parts place and multiple boxes opened there while we waited that last trip to the store before we got the correct pistons! Why? "Made in Mexico." All the numbers all along had matched, but the parts would not fit.

    All this back and forth made the motor rebuild take at least three times long that it should have. Sheesh.

    We had our VW Bug on the road less than 10 days when somebody stole it -- which it was parked overnight at our house. Whoever took it dropped the motor, then burned the vehicle. Mr. AOW and I were newlyweds and didn't have squat -- except for the car we no longer had (insurance was for liability only because we couldn't afford otherwise). So, my parents bought a 1966 Valiant, standard transmission, for us for $200. Dad and Mr. AOW rebuilt that motor, too. The car had been priced way low because of blowing blue smoke. At least nobody ever stole our Valiant!

    1. That rebuilt VW motor made someone a fine dune buggy I'll bet.
      Your parents wee sweethearts.

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  7. Ah yes, Autozone... That is why I'm a NAPA guy, and have been for 50 years. Had a situation last month where we needed a battery on Sunday for a truck. Owner of the local NAPA came in and sold it to us after church.

    1. That's great. and they usually sell MOOG.
      They're not always open when I am off work.

  8. Similar probs at both Lowe's and Home Depot.
    You yoosta be able to go in there and get what you needed, supplemented with good advice on what to avoid.
    No more.
    Mostly kids who don't know a crescent wrench from a codpiece.

    1. I won't be asking for help selecting a wrench, I think. :)

    2. Greybeard,

      Also, don't bother to ask a high school grad to take measurements either. Anything more "involved" than one half is beyond many of them. And I'm referring to those who come to a garage and ask to be employed as "a mechanic."

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. When we lived in Long Beach, I avoided the AZ like the plague; O'Reilly's was far better at having parts for my obscure Toyota.

    Here in Colorado it's the opposite. O'Reilly's is clueless, and the AZ is run by a bunch of gearheads.

    Go figure....

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