Never has an adage been so true.
I rarely diverge from “doing it right”. I pay for OEM/motorsport parts and materials. I install them correctly. I torque fasteners to spec, using regularly calibrated and well treated tools. I often leave everything much cleaner than when I started. In return, I am most often rewarded by long lasting repair work and less troubleshooting in the future.
Most recently though, my 2004 Audi Allroad has just been absolutely dominating me with expensive repairs. Mind you, these aren’t even incredibly complex in the scope of the vehicle, but as with many luxury manufacturers, genuine Audi parts sell for roughly their physical form made of solid gold.
I spent last weekend fixing up a number of things on the Audi. I installed new Aero wiper blades, and a new set of rear rotors and pads. I tracked down all the parts I needed to install new upper control arms, an engine coolant temperature sensor, and a new accessory belt and tensioner. I didn’t get as many things installed on the car as I had wanted, but I felt like I was maybe making a bit of progress against the unstoppable tide that is maintenance on an older German vehicle.
Some of these maintenance items should have served as a warning for the decision that I would make today. You see, in another moment of “doing it wrong”, the accessory belt was replaced about 20,000 miles ago, but the previous owner neglected to replace the tensioner. The tensioner has since failed under the stress of the newer, stiffer belt, and partially eaten the new belt along with it.
On the way home from my brother’s house, which had been my workspace for the weekend, still feeling at least somewhat accomplished by my work, I heard a loud thud, and suddenly every light on the dash lit up like the holidays. The ABS, air suspension, and transmission warning lights had all become illuminated. After pulling to the side of the interstate, I did a quick check to make sure that nothing had completely exploded or vomited precious petroleum everywhere. There didn’t appear to be any real change to operation though, so I soldiered on the rest of the 40 miles home with not much more than a mildly elevated blood pressure. As it turns out, Audi feels the need to interface the mass air flow sensor with the entire solar system of computers in the car, so that means lots of faults when something is wrong with it.
A failed MAF sensor then, should be easy to fix, right? The internet warned me that cleaning the MAF probably maybe might not work for less than 15 days if the moon aligns with the sun on the second day of August. With a new OEM sensor at the price of roughly $250 however, I decided that cleaning it might be worth a shot. Indeed, today would not be my lucky day.
I’ve probably wound you up for some massive conclusion today, but the truth is I only wasted about $15 on some mass air flow sensor cleaner, and throttle body cleaner. In retrospect though, as has been reinforced countless times in my experience with anything related to engineering, I should have avoided the tempting shortcut. This doesn’t even necessarily mean never diverging from OEM, but if you do, make sure it’s a well engineered solution. Selecting cheaper parts is okay, rebuilding rather than replacing assemblies is sometimes a great investment of your time, but if it really feels like you’re cheating on labor or getting by with a shortcut, you’re likely going to regret it in the near future. Unless you’re ditching the car tomorrow, or maybe even if you are, you’re probably going to shoot yourself in the foot.
That reminds me, I need to replace or rebuild the right rear caliper where I discovered that the piston boot had been torn. Oh, and that new MAF sensor too...