Monday, February 27, 2012

You don’t really own a Supercar until you pay for the first major repair bill !!!

It was just a beautiful Sunday morning in the summer. July 25, 2010 to be exact. I just finished playing tennis and driving my cool looking Supercar to have lunch. Then it happened. First a “Check Engine” light came on, but then went away on the freeway. I make it to the freeway exit and all of a sudden I lost power, the oil pressure went to zero. I tried to restart the car several time with no luck. I was strained on the road in the Lotus Esprit for the very first time.

I did not think much of it at the time. I asked AAA to tow it to a European cars (Porsche, BMW, Mercedes) specialist shop nearby. It was Sunday and all auto shops were closed so I just left it there and called my wife to pick me up. I check back the next morning and they told me the bad news. The timing belts lost some teeth and slipped. They need to open up the engine to check for damage and replace the belt. That’s at least $3K. Lotus is such a rare car that they don’t even know how to fix it, so they were calling around for help. I went home and ask several Esprit groups about what to do. They ALL told me one thing: send the car to a Lotus specialist for the repair, someone who knows what he is doing on this exotic car. Most said Harry Appleby and his Viking Motor Sports in Costa Mesa, California is the best around. Since I love this car so much, I paid the $220 extra tow fee and tow the car to Harry’s shop. Now looking back on it, it was the wise decision.

How can the timing belt broke on me? Doesn’t it have a 100K miles California warranty on the belt by the factory? The car has only 46K miles on it! Too bad the warranty expired 10 years ago. No plastic belt is designed for 15 years of life. If I have known better, I should have replaced the timing belt right after I got it as an important preventive maintenance. Driving Japanese all these years had spoiled me on car maintenance. I have to be extra careful from now on if I want to keep this baby around.

Harry pulled the engine out and gave it a thorough check. The news got worse – all sixteen valves were bent. Usually only a couple are bent when the belt breaks. Harry thinks only one or two teeth were gone initially so the engine was still running and car was still moving, but off sync. Finally all the valves were bent, the engine seized up, and the timing belt won’t turn anymore. Well, too bad I found out afterwards. My assumption on the 100K rated belt was “dead wrong”. The bad omen of license plate ending with “444” (which rhyme with Chinese “dead dead dead”) did haunt me.

After all, it is a 16 years old car and many things on the car do need service on top of the belt and valves. Here is the list Harry told me is needed to be done on the car:

1. Removed the engine from the car for easier access.
2. 16 valves and some new valve guides.
3. Machine work to repair the cylinder head.
4. Top engine gasket set.
5. JAE blue timing belt.
6. All the auxiliary belts.
7. Water pump.
8. Thermostat.
9. Cam towers bolt.
10. Replace all the engine coolant hoses with new silicone hoses.
11. New coolant.
12. New water wetter.
13. New engine oil (synthetic) and filter.
14. New transmission oil (MT90).
15. Other parts if needed.

The current estimated total, around US$7000 (and may go up more). Time needed for the repair, 3 weeks.

I was hoping to just skip one mortgage payment to pay for it. Now it is more like 3 mortgage payments. Foreclosure time!!! Even though my wife and I can sleep inside the Esprit, where am I going to put my daughter in a two seater?

There is a saying that you don’t really own a Lotus until you pay for the first repair bill. I guess I need to be initiated into a “real ownership” now. I need to get a loan or split the payment into 2 or 3 credit cards. Wait a minute, the $500+ I just spent on the subwoofers and Amp is still on one of the cards. Anyone want to buy an Esprit S4 so I can pay for the repair?

If I really want to keep the supercar, I will have to find a way to pay it. I try to rationalize it this way – There are about $3000 worth of work I should have done anyway after I bought the car (new belts, water bump, hoses, C service), so this is just a $4000 lesson (how did the 4 gets in here again). Since I wanted a 4 cylinder model and S4 is the best, I guess I will have to live with some 4s (but the license plate has to be changed).

More on the repair itself and some upgrades in the next blog.

I personally thank Paul who gave me the encouragment I need to continue this blog. I hope more of you will find it enjoyable for many years to come.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Howie,
    Man! Glad to hear you are still keeping the car and loving it after that philosophical experience! You're right - it never occurred to me about all the 4s (you really need to get a better licence plate). Maybe the V8 is luckier?!
    Again, us car lovers thank because this is exactly the kind of detailed info we need for our own life.