By Allen Penticoff
There are times when a motor vehicle part seems to defy the laws of “planned obsolescence.” The 12-year-old muffler on my 1992 Honda Civic is one of these.
I’ve had 11-year-old batteries (in a VW camper), and my shock absorbers apparently will never wear out, although they have 18 years and 190,000 miles on them. My wife’s 1997 Subaru is rolling over 200,000 miles this week. It, too, has never had the shocks changed, and doesn’t seem like they will need to be replaced soon, either.
I’ve managed to make my whole exhaust system last since it was last replaced in March 1998 by taking off the leaky parts and welding or brazing patches over the holes, or at times replacing a fitting. This comes in part because I am frugal, and in part by determination. Last year, a new exhaust pipe finally replaced the many-times-patched one. Now, this week, I’m on the edge of replacing the muffler. It is a genuine Honda part; internally and externally, it is in good condition. What is bad is the several-times-patched, welded-on pipe before the actual muffler is now to the point that there is little left of the original pipe to patch to as the metal has become quite thin.
Except for expensive stainless exhaust pipes—they corrode from the inside because of corrosive gases and from the outside because of exposure to our wonderful road salt—idling is the worst for exhaust systems as the moisture in the exhaust condenses and saturates the insides with corrosive liquid. You may have noticed water dripping out of a tailpipe. Water vapor itself is corrosive to steel. Hotter is better, so the more highway driving you do, the longer exhaust parts will last.
I took my muffler off on our nicest day of the year so far and had a look at it. Hmm. Me thinks it’s time to replace. So, I made a trip to the nearest auto parts store to order a new one. It arrived the next day as they promised, but it was missing the pipe in front of the muffler and the actual little tailpipe. Undoubtedly, it is a cheaper muffler than the Honda part, and that’s one of those tradeoffs. Do I go with the cheapy, and it rots out in a couple of years (I used to get those with “lifetime warranties” and had several replaced for free because I kept the car for 10 years—they don’t do that anymore.) After discovering that I needed the lead-in pipe, there was a shift in thinking. Hmm, I did not know I could get just that part—the part that is bad on my 12-year-old muffler. For $15, I may be able to cut off the bad part and braze the new pipe to the old muffler, giving it perhaps a couple more years to subdue my little exhaust.
To make this type of repair, I’ll have to reinstall the muffler, slide the pipe on over the rusty stub I’ll leave of the old pipe, then connect that to the exhaust pipe temporarily while I make a mark on the pipe and muffler to use for brazing in the proper position. The muffler will, of course, have to come off again. But this I’ve done enough times that it is no longer a big deal, though far from fun. The pipe could be welded on as well, but I don’t own the proper wire welding equipment, and probably won’t take it to where it could be welded when I’ve found brazing (a sort of lost art) does this sort of job quite well with my acetylene/oxygen torch.
Speaking of not having the right equipment; this whole operation takes place in my garage using a floor jack to lift the car until jack stands can support it and the jack pulled out of the way. It’s tight, as is all work under vehicles when you don’t have a true car lift at your disposal. I’ve come to realize that the majority of work you need to do to a motor vehicle is under it. I should have long ago invested in a twin-post lift and it would have saved me a lot of agony and time—and would be safer to boot. They are not especially expensive anymore—under $2,000 (since they are made in China now) and should be on the Christmas/Birthday wish list of anyone who does a lot of their own maintenance. Unfortunately, I can’t install one in my shop because I had the bright idea to put heating tubes in the cement when I had the floor poured. So now, I’m looking at fabricating some way for the hoist to be free-standing yet stable as if it were bolted to the floor. A twin-post is the only way to go. Most other style lifts get in the way of doing some of the jobs you need to do with a vehicle on a hoist.
If Mr. Green Car is successful with his repair job, he’ll take the muffler he just bought back to the store, saving about $90. If my repair is unsuccessful, I’ll have to decide whether to buy the pipe I just ruined again so the cheap muffler can be installed, or decide if the long-lived Honda muffler is worth the additional expense. If you were not planning on keeping a vehicle forever, the choice is easy, go with cheap. However, if you’ve got a “keeper,” then there is a bit more to the decision-making process.
If you don’t do your own maintenance, don’t expect any shop to weld on patches for you. It’s not that they can’t—they have no interest in doing it. They make money on the parts they use, and they can be reasonably confident they won’t have a problem with it later that will cost them their valuable time. I would say it is worth asking questions about what quality of parts you are getting and what warranties come with them—a good indicator of quality is a longer warranty.
From the Mar. 10-16, 2010 issue