Serviceability is not a top priority for vehicle design teams, but it should be. Vehicle designers will surely read this article and remonstrate that there is no real issue here, and that modern computer-aided design makes vehicle repairs logical, efficient, and affordable. Any first year mechanic’s apprentice knows better.
To prove the point, let’s look at a couple of real repairs. Chrysler will take the sharp point of our stick in these examples, but the sins of the industry are not bounded by brand. And nowhere is bad service/repair design more evident than in the industry's antiquated approach to heating and air conditioning systems.
Let’s start with a 2000 Chrysler Concorde, a car with, well... issues. Other egregious offenses aside, this particular Concorde’s air conditioner blows more hot air than a freshman congressman, now that the evaporator core has sprung its characteristic leak.
The thoughtful addition of a foam blanket wrapped around the evaporator traps moisture and creates a fertile breeding ground for bacteria large enough to fly in formation through the air vents.
Ick. This thing reminds me of my high school gym locker, also a health hazard. The mold smell with the AC on was so intense that scented sprays and anti-fungal treatments were impotent. Why would anyone place large-pore foam that collects moisture in the bottom of the evap case?
Get this far and you’ll know how Lewis and Clark felt when first they saw the great Pacific Ocean.
On our journey to this scenic vista we have disconnected large parts of the main wiring harness at the cabin power distribution center, unplugged the SRS module, lowered the steering column, and separated a large number of fragile plastic trim panels designed to snap together easily—and break helplessly when separated again.
Even if you use the most efficient dashboard disassembly method (simply reversing the factory dash assembly process) the absurd repair process required to access the evaporator and heater cores is also a breeding ground—for comebacks. This deeply flawed approach is common throughout the industry, and has been for decades.
A simple access door at both the evaporator core and heater core sure would make life easier, wouldn't it? Imagine such a door in the general location indicated by the dotted line. Considering how many of these evaporators died an early death, a zipper is also a tempting option.
But Wait! There’s More
The top radiator hose is attached to the engine at a plastic/metal bleeder housing with a bolt-on metal snout. The factory housing has been (characteristically) seeping coolant for years, right where the bleeder screw insert meets the plastic housing in which it is embedded. Since the vehicle is getting new belts and hoses, replacing the housing is essential, in our book.
The rear screws holding the bleeder housing to the engine are inaccessible, covered by the wiring harness, which is trapped tightly in place by that stylish black plastic intake manifold. Apparently Form and Function had not been introduced at this stage of the design process.
Three options present themselves immediately:
a) Add a catch tray with drain hose to route the coolant drip away from the new belts and hoses.
b) Remove the intake manifold to gain access to the housing’s back bolts.
c) Trade this car in for a new one.
a) is silly, of course, and c) is just what Chrysler hopes we'll do.
We remove the intake to get at those two hidden housing bolts. But we ain't all that happy about it.
Why is this necessary? Especially when you consider that we are replacing a part that should last the life of the vehicle under normal conditions, but fails regularly.
A Mechanic's Take
Customer complaints about excessive repair costs are usually aimed at mechanics and the parts department. But many of today’s biggest repair order totals are the direct result of poor vehicle design that limits component access, leading to unnecessary vehicle disassembly.
I'm bushed, so don’t even get me started on the lower radiator hose access, a chain-driven water pump located inside the timing cover whose replacement requires major engine disassembly, a fuel filter that requires tank removal for servicing....