Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Brick Chronicles: Catalytic Converter/Exhaust Manifold(?) - Phase I

I've had it.

The other day I was driving in my '98 Volvo S70 when all of a sudden I heard this terrible noise resembling an old Civic with a cheap aftermarket exhaust kit. I panned left and right, initially thinking it was one of my road neighbors, until something bad happened: I changed gears only to hear this horrendous low-pitched babble following thine own engine RPM. Fortunately, I had only made it a few miles away from school when this all happened. The brick is a 15 year old car and according to the service history the exhaust hasn't been touched; it all made sense, I thought to myself as I poked around the car awaiting AAA. I had it towed to a garage near campus for $24 - cheap insurance in case my -- still driveable -- Volvo has something more serious it was hiding.

Old cat cantilevered off the exhaust manifold. 
The next morning, I awoke to a call from the garage owner who diagnosed both a failing exhaust manifold and catalytic converter, with an estimated price tag of $2,000 parts and labor. This far exceeded my premonition of a bad connection between the tailpipe and muffler. However, for those reading who know me (and my brick) you know that it takes a large number to startle me when it comes to car repair. This is the same car which had a timing belt tensioner fail in Canada, costing about $1,300 in towing and $3,000 to replace the engine. Other holes in my pocket include the time I went to prepare my car for a road trip and wound up with a $1,200 bill to replace A-arms and tie rods with worn ball joints and $400 for a radiator that one time. Fortunately, I have a habit of working year round and am able to fund my aging automotive sidekick.

Disaster strikes in Montreal.
This summer, though, I will be taking a rare break. For in the Fall I shall be blossoming into a beautiful graduate student butterfly, and heading the advice of every grad student I've ever talked to ever, I'm taking a damn break! I cannot remember the last summer like this (I think it must have been when I still went to summer camp) but it gave me an idea: now that I have the time, I can finally work on my car myself. That, combined with the realization that I now have a degree in mechanical engineering. I think this also certifies me to assemble IKEA furniture sans directions?

I guess this is a somewhat pedantic and anecdotal preface to the main point of this and future posts. This is that I'm sick of blindly paying garages to do work I can do myself -- putting on my DIY car repair hat. I picked up the car immediately after hearing the garage quote, had a loud, slow, and nerve-wracking drive back to campus, and then immediately began Phase I: Research. I scoured the internet for parts and such and found the Volvo original exhaust manifold (which I am still not convinced is busted) could be purchased for $431 or about $75 from a junkyard, and the catalytic converter for just $395 if I don't plan on driving to California anytime soon. With the latter not meeting California's strict emissions regulations, I could cut the cost of the part in half and then some. So at worst, I pay $1000+ and learn something, and at best $400+ and I still learn something. And in either scenario, I can't go to California. Seems reasonable, so I bought the cat, in addition to some small supporting hardware.

Strangest object to be delivered to the front desk. Probably the most chemically diverse as well.
Guess I'm not driving to Calif. any time soon.
This concludes Phase I. Let's review the score:

D.E.C. catalytic converter - $396.55 (FREE SHIPPING!)
+         Exhaust flange gasket - $3.95
=                                         $399.50
($2000 - 399.50 = 1600.50)

Off to a decent start! The next steps are to get the tools together and then do the actual work. Oh and graduation somewhere in between...but that's a completely different kettle of fish.

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