Friday, October 22, 2010

The letter...

Hi Shop-Owner,

I’m writing this letter from my office in San Francisco and don’t have access to my notes or the interim quotes/invoices, so please pardon the rough nature of the numbers and timeframes I’ve included below.  

I wanted to roughly recap my experiences so far, in limited detail, so we’re on the same page with respect to my experiences with “The Shop”. 

While I find that you’re supportive and pleasant to deal with, my experiences with “The Shop” had left me somewhat dissatisfied overall, but I also felt that, in some ways, like welding in a new O2 sensor bung at no charge, “The Shop” was going over and above and decided to give the shop the benefit of the doubt.

After the problems the truck experienced late last week, however, I find myself extremely dissatisfied, especially since they seem to be related to the root cause of the issues being chased recently. And, the outcome from installing a factory O2 sensor clearly indicates the O2 sensor was not the cause.

My truck, a 1987 Toyota 4Runner Turbo, was returned to me in early December after a prolonged period of time (3 months comes to mind) for an engine rebuild.  I had been told it would be “$2400 drive in, drive out” for a performance engine rebuild, which included minor porting and larger valves. This did not include unexpected issues, like a cracked head, nor did it include rebuilding the turbo or add-ons, like Total Chaos motor mounts, cat-back exhaust, etc.

Before getting the truck back in December, you had contacted me with price adjustments, indicating the $2400 did not include an oil pump or a timing chain and those were extra. This was unexpected, as was the new price, which included extras I had asked for as well as many other rebuild-related parts I was not expecting after our conversations around rebuilding the engine. In retrospect and my discussions with other shops, these seem to be common things that would be replaced as part of the rebuild of an engine with 212K miles on them and should have been brought up before any work was started.

My expectation remained that any necessary items would be brought to my attention for review on how to proceed.

The truck was returned to me in early December and needed to be returned to the shop after 600 miles. At 600 miles, I brought it in and indicated there were two issues – the truck was puffing blue smoke on deceleration, and the thermostat appeared to have stuck on the way into your shop that morning, resulting in the temperature gauge reading much higher than normal, but not in the danger zone.

When I got the truck back, the temperature was back to normal and I assumed the thermostat had been swapped out . While I was in AZ, I found that the thermostat was in fact not changed at any time by “The Shop”. The shop in AZ indicated that, given the use of red RTV on the thermostat housing, they did not believe the thermostat had been changed at the time of the engine being rebuilt, and strongly suggested it be changed given the engine was newly rebuilt. Once removed, the old thermostat had rust around the edges. I’ve retained the thermostat.

When I brought the truck back to “The Shop” to have a catalytic convertor installed, I needed an emissions test for the DMV paperwork. I was quite surprised to find that the truck more than doubled the limits for each tested factor. I was informed the truck needed to be brought back in later to resolve the issue, which I did.

Your shop insisted I did not need the VCV valve (I’ve been erroneously calling it a VSV valve) on the valve cover for EGR functions and instead routed the vacuum line so that it was taken out of the system. I indicated several times that I had the old valve, which was damaged, but was told it wasn’t needed. It is pictured in the vacuum diagram under the hood. Later, I was told the valve was very difficult to find and that alternatives were being explored since it managed EGR functions. I’ve since found that the part number for the original valve is 90925-03117 and any of the local Toyota dealers can have it in stock within a day or so.

After getting the truck back this time, it had started to miss at very light throttle openings. You indicated it was likely the O2 sensor, so I brought it back for another O2 sensor, apparently a GM one. The problem, which is very easy to replicate, and annoying, persisted after the change, but your shop indicated it should be fixed when I picked up the truck.

The next time into the shop, the turbo was sent back to the rebuilder under warranty to fix an oil leak, and the O2 sensor was replaced with a stock sensor to resolve the light-throttle miss. The truck continued to exhibit the light-throttle miss after this work, leading me to believe that “The Shop” did not test drive the truck at all. I also found that the O2 leads had been cut off and spade connectors installed. The TPS was also adjusted during this service. The TPS currently only has one screw holding it in.

After this latest repair effort, I needed to go to Tucson, Arizona.

As you know, the fuel gauge doesn’t work well on the truck. Given this, I was using the odometer to track when it was time to fill up. When I bought the truck, with about 212,000 miles on it and with a poorly running engine, I drove it from Sacramento to San Diego and averaged 20mpg.

Fuel mileage on this trip was dismal and I ran out of gas on the highway near Winterhaven, CA with around 175 miles on that tank, which holds more than 17 gallons. A CHP officer pushed me and the truck to the nearest gas station. Fuel mileage continued to be poor for the duration of the trip out, hovering in the 11mpg range. 

Near Green Valley, the truck started making a tapping sound and running rough/poorly. I pulled over and called a local shop for service.

While the shop had my truck, I borrowed a friend’s truck to get around, or there would be a rental charge as well.

The intake boot had gritty, thick oil in it, as did the intake itself (where the butterfly valve is). It seems like it had been there a while since the metal turbo tube going into that boot (which was cut and extended by welding by “The Shop” during the initial rebuild) did not have this residue buildup. Since the intake appears not to have been cleaned externally either, it appears this is a remnant from before the rebuild. As such, it would be completely unacceptable and would contribute to undesirable wear and tear on the engine if ingested, which may have already been occurring.

I had requested that the engine be built to support at least 250hp, which I was told was readily achievable. The intake seems to not have been split, nor was it cleaned. The injectors were siliconed into the intake, and both front injectors were very loose in their sockets. Also, it does not appear the intake side of the head or intake manifold were ported, as discussed as part of the $2400 drive in/drive out performance rebuild.

It feels to me that “The Shop” has had my truck more over the last 7 months than I have, and the recent repeat issues with the miss being readily apparent each time I picked it up, when claimed to be solved, are contributing to my reticence to bring it back in for any work. Since I live about 25-30 miles from “The Shop”, each time I need to bring the truck in for repairs creates logistical challenges for me and my family.

Given the amount of churn and extensive shop time chasing easy-to-replicate issues which are stated as resolved when the truck is returned to me, but are not, and the number of issues this other shop found, I have lost confidence in the engine and the work completed. 

I am convinced I’ll be chasing problems with this truck for quite some time, especially as I begin to increase the power output with an intercooler and turning up the turbo as originally planned and as we have discussed. My overriding concern that a significant engine failure is imminent, even if not tuned up any more, and will occur after the warranty expires.

The warranty from “The Shop” is also being eroded by the continuous trips to the shop where service durations have ranged from 1-3 weeks per event.

Attached is the work the truck needed in Arizona. This incident with my truck affected both my business and my personal commitments on my trip.

I support mistakes, but the extent of the issues, such as loose bolts on both sides of the engine, and the critical, visibly damaged parts not replaced (injector pigtails) clearly demonstrates that whomever worked on my truck did not apply normal and reasonable care or even basic automotive practices (Using a torque wrench to tighten the intake bolts). 

The truck is now running better than it has since I got it back from “The Shop”. Even so, on the return trip, I only averaged around 15mpg, well under the 20mpg the truck achieved before the rebuild. I’m concerned that there are other issues contributing to the poor mileage, especially as the articles I’ve read after owners installed a TEC turbo had the truck getting significantly better gas mileage as well as power (going from 20 to 26mpg, for example). 

I am highly concerned that the engine will suffer a major mechanical issue in or out of warranty, especially given the issues experienced so far.

I’ll be back in San Diego next week and look forward to your suggestions on resolving these issues. At this point, I almost want another shop to tear down the engine to verify the work, at “The Shop”’s expense, as well as reimbursing me for current applicable expenses (not the injectors).

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