Entries Tagged 'Cars, Fuel, and Money' ↓

Camry Transaxle Repair

This was more of a replacement than repair of a 1995 LE.

Parts were obtained on-line from a wholesale parts vendor.

The drivers side was done first.

Remove the axle nut that holds the wheel hub to the wheel side of the old transaxle. This nut is visible after the hub cap is removed. This nut has a skirt and a cotterpin through the axle shaft. Remove the cotter pin and skirt.

I used a 30mm impact socket I had purchased at a NAPA store some years ago. This half inch drive socket was used with a half inch drive breaker bar to remove the nut. The nut and axle was treated with WD-40 and penetrating oil the day before attempting to remove the nut. After standing on the end of the breaker bar handle, using the car fender for ballance, and jumping up and down on the handle a dozen times, the nut finally came loose.

The passenger side was just even more difficult. It took a 10 foot section of pipe acting as a cheater bar on the breaker bar to loosen the nut.

If you decide to do this job youself, attempt to remove the axel nuts before you order parts. If you can’t get the axle nuts off, you will need to have the work done at an automotive shop.

CAUTION: Do not attempt to remove the axle nuts if the wheel has been removed. Trying to do that will severely damage the transmission. You need the friction of the tire against pavement and the weight of the car on the tire to act against the pull of the wrench.

Yes, you can save about $250 per axle if you do it yourself but that assumes you can complete the job. Parts cost about $170 for both driver and passenger side axles. Replacement of both sides at an automotive shop will run around $500. If you buy the parts and then find you can’t do the work, it may cost you $670.

Jack up the car as though changing the front tire. Raise it up a little higher than normal so you can put a jack stand under the car at the point where you used the jack. Take the stress off the lifting jack but leave it in place.

Next you have to remove the wheel. Place the wheel under the front end of the car so that if it should slip off jack stand and jack, the tire will cushion its fall.

You might get by with leaving the disk brake caliper in place but to be on the safe side I removed it. It is held on by two bolts. Use wire to support the caliper out of the way. Don’t stress the hydraulic hose and don’t disconnect the hydraulic hose.

This would be an excellent time to replace disk brake pads.

Remove the two nuts and bolt holding the lower ball joint bracket to the frame support. Use a jack to raise the wheel bearing hub against the strut so you can let the ball joint bracket studs clear their mounting holes. Then swing the wheel hub assembly out and away from the ball bearing frame support.

The axle shaft is splined and fits into splines in the wheel hub assembly. These parts may be stuck due to rust or corrosioin. Re-install the wheel nut backwards on the shaft and try to disloge the shaft with a mallet. The nut protects the shaft. The shafts might be rebuildable. The nut is not reusable. If this does not work, you will need to use a wheel puller to remove the shaft from the hub.

If you have not yet done so, drain the transmission of oil. If the car is old enough to do this repair, it is also old enough to have a transmission fluid change. Dexron-II Otherwise you may have the fluid leak out when you pull the axles.

Remember we are working on the driver side of the car for now. On this side the transaxle shaft is held into the tranmission with a C-ring mounted into a groove in the transmission end of the shaft assembly. Removal is done by leveraging the shaft hub against the transmission case with a screwdriver or crowbar and giving it a yank.

It did not come out, did it? There is not enough room to work under the car and there is not enough area on the axle hub to get a good hold. Besides, you don’t want to bring the car down on your head.

I ended up buying a 5 lb slide hammer to help the situation. Turns out it was close to worthless in the removal but made installation easy.

I ended up making a tool out of angle iron. I used a grinder to profile the angle iron to fit the curvature of the axle hub. The axle hub has grooves that act as stops for a clamp made from the angle iron. I used all thread stock and appropriate nuts to fit the all thread to make fasteners for each side of the angle iron clamps so that I could securely clamp the tool around the hub. Then I used a crowbar brought in from the front of the car, placed it between the transmission case housing and the angle iron tool and removed the axle with one snap. When you have two solid surfaces to brace against, you don’t need much room to accomplish this task.

Getting the new axle installed was just as much fun. Supposedly you can just slam the transmission end of the axle home and it will seat. My axle just kept bouncing back out of the mounting.

I finally ended up using my homemade clamping tool again. I cut a groove into the end of a one inch pipe. This grooved end was fitted into the center of the angle iron tool. The 5 lb slide hammer was placed at the far end of the pipe. Several good smacks later and the shaft had seated. I am pretty sure it was seated because I could not pull it out.

Now you thread the wheel end of the shaft through the wheel hub and manhandle the assembly back into place so you can re-install the bolt and nuts holding the lower ball joint.

Almost done now with this side. Reinstall the brake caliper and wheel. Torque the nut to spec. Install the nut retainer and cotter pin. Go do the passenger side.

The wheel end of the passenger side axle is the same as the driver side. The transmission side is completely different. This side uses an intermediate bearing, bolt and retaining ring to keep the shaft in place at the transmission. This bearing may freeze into its housing, complicating service. The bracket holding this bearing may need to be removed if this should happen. Not sure how complicated bracket removal might be. It looks like the same bracket holds the engine to the frame.

In my case the bearing came out easily after the retaining ring was removed. My car used a retaining ring that was formed from a section of square wire. It had one inch ears at its ends. It was very easy to compress the ring by using pliers to squeese the ears together and allow the ring to dislodge.

The replacement shaft was equipped with a standard C-clip that had been pressed out of sheet steel. These conventional clips have ears that have holes to accomodate C-ring pliers. That works great in cases where you can get c-ring pliers to compress and hold the ring for removal and installation. This is NOT one of those situations. There is not enough room between the bearing housing and the CV bearing case to use snap-ring pliers.

I discarded the newly provided snap-ring and reused the old snap-ring.

Installation is a matter of inserting the shaft into the transmission, seating the intermediate bearing, and installing the retaining ring. The bearing housing also has a screw extending below it. This screw should be torqued to 24 foot-lbs but it is not sufficient to retain the shaft. Without the retaining ring, the shaft will pull out of the transmission.

The easiest way to install the retaining ring is to compress the ears with locking pliers. Grasp the very ends of the ears and compress them until they are closed tightly against eachother. This is with the ring in place around the shaft. Now carefully pass the transmission end of the shaft through the bearing mount and into the transmission. Push the shaft in firmly, rotate back and forth to make sure it is seated and engaged. Now very carefully move the compressed ring with the locking pliers in place to the milled out area on the upper left side of the bearing mount. Ensure that ring is flush against the bearing all the way around and release the locking pliers to let the ring expand and seat in the groove provided in the mount.

Reinstall the lower ball joint mount. It is not as easy as it sounds, is it? Before you put the ball joint mount back you have to thread the wheel side of the axle through the axle hub. Depending on how much ‘bounce’ is left in your strut this can be a little tricky. You need to jack up the bottom of the ball joint and when you try that the ball joint/wheel hub/strut assembly will have a tendancy to move away from its destination.

I finally had to use my trusty come-a-long. One end fixed to the car frame on the drivers side and the other end hooked to the brake caliper mounting hole. Now the ball joint mount could be jacked without risking damage to the drive shaft.

I did not have as much trouble with the drivers side axle replacement. Perhaps the strut on that side was weaker.

Once the ball joint mount was installed the brake caliper needed to be reinstalled. Turns out the brake shoe was worn down to the point where it would not seat properly in the caliper. New shoes were bought and installed on both sides. If you have more than 10k miles on your brake shoes, plan on replacing them as a matter of fact.

Everything was put back together, fluid levels topped off, and the car test driven. The only problem was a leak at the drivers side transaxle where the axle enters the transmission. I suspect that I need to remove the drivers side axle again, pull the old seal, install a new seal, and reinstall the axle with a new retainer ring.

That probably will not happen this week or even next week.

So, moral of this mess is that if you decide to replace the transaxles, plan on doing the brakes, and replacing the transaxle seals at the same time. Might as well throw in an oil change too. You are going to get dirty rolling around on the concrete beneath the car, might as well get as much use out of the inconvenience as possible.

So, did we save $250 per axle? Perhaps only half that since we still have to fix the oil leak on the drivers side but we also saved $70 bucks on a brake job (front discs only) and $20 bucks on an oil change.

Hint: Don’t go to a car parts place to buy oil, go to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has decent prices on gasoline too.

Sam’s Club is the Best

The old Camry has been in need of a pair of new front tires for a while now. We finally decided to take care of that this Saturday. I was not looking forward to this. The last time I bought tires at Sam’s they must have been seconds or perhaps thirds (if there is such a thing). The guy doing the balancing had to install so many weights he could not get the hub caps back on. Don’t remember exactly how that one was resolved. That was over 15 years ago. Yup, this was the first time in a decade and a half that I decided to give the Sam’s place a second try.

Left the house at about 12:30, just after noon. Got back to the house at 1:30 with new tires and a trunk load of groceries.

They didn’t have michelins. No big deal michelins wear out too. One of the bad tires on the front was a michelin. They offered me Dunlap 195/70/14′s at $52 each. I figured the Dunlap tires were just as perfectly round as the Michelins so we arranged to have two of them installed while we did some grocery shopping.

Twenty minutes later we were pushing our cart back into the parking lot where we expected to find our car. No problem. Found the car and it had new tires on the front wheels. Got the keys and paperwork from the service desk, loaded the groceries and were on our way home.

Pushed the envelope a little to test the new ride. Not a hint of shimmy. Car is all better now and ready for the next trip.

What impressed me was that the folk at Sam’s did not hassle us about rebates, road hazzard insurance, and other scams practiced by some of the tire sales monkeys out there. No B.S. just fair prices, good work, and fast service.

A stark contrast to our experience at Discount Tire Place the last place that balanced my tires. They wasted my time coming up with an estimate of $550 to replace all four tires when all I needed was a wheel balancing. That $550 was after a $30 trade-in allowance on the tires that did not need to be replaced, a $50 mail-in rebate that I was pretty sure would not materialize, and addition of a heafty additional insurance fee.

We won’t be going back to Discount any time soon. Not when we can get decent deals at Sam’s.


I believe that is what they are called now. Some time ago I remember them as the Morris Minor. It is a small, cute, automobile made in the UK. Even though it is small, it has a substantial look to it. A well rounded body that makes it look like a tough little car. The selling price on it is tough too. Comes in at $20k and higher.

I have always admired it but never seriously considered owning one. Now that I see it has a luxury car price, I will probably never own one. Just would not be prudent.

Still I have always considered it to be an economy car due to its size. I was just certain that it got at least 50 miles to a gallon of gas. Yesterday I discovered that it only claims 40 miles to a gallon!

I know that 40 miles per gallon is a lot better than 15 but when you realize that the mini is less than half the size of most sedans, you got to ask why it can’t get at least 50 miles per gallon.

I have owned and driven a four cylinder Camry since 1996. It is a full sized, four door sedan, with better than average performance. My Camry gets 32 miles per gallon! I find it hard to imagine a car half the size of my Camry only gets me 8 more miles to the gallon. That is just not worth a switch.

This got me interested in some of the hybrids that are being offered by a variety of manufacturers. I discovered prices ranging from mid 20′s to mid 30′s and gas mileage claims around 40 miles per gallon! For a Hybrid!!??? No wonder they are not selling like hot cakes!!!

Unless I am sadly mistaken, I recall that in 1980 a rabbit diesel with a four cylinder engine got around 50 miles per gallon of fuel. Twenty seven years later, after much research and development, the automobile industry offers us a vehicle that costs four times as much and only gets 80percent as much fuel efficiency. And we wonder why areas of the automobile industry are having financial problems. One step forward and two steps back is not going to work.

When you consider the maintenance on the electrical part of the prime mover, the replacement of batteries at significant cost every two years or so, then add that to the depreciation and the initial price, you suddenly discover that hybrids are a bust.

The way I see it, a hybrid could easily cost twice as much to own as a normal automobile. It would have to get at least 60 miles to the gallon to justify such an cost and it would have to last for more than ten years and gasoline would have to get to 5 dollars a gallon. I am pretty sure none of that is ever going to happen. Except maybe gas going to 5 dollars a gallon (with 3 dollars of that being tax.)

Ten years from now we are going to look back on today and realize what joke hybrids were.

Insurance as an Investment

Somewhere in these posts is a blurb cautioning the reader not to confuse a bad sales pitch for good advice. The guy selling insurance as an investment is the epitome of a bad sales pitch. This guy is news as bad as it is ever going to get.

The pitch usually goes like this….whole life, it costs a little more but it does so much more. It is an investment in your future. A secure way to build the nest egg your heirs will appreciate and the means to retire in comfort while protecting you against the financial burdens associated with an untimely death.

Whole life insurance costs more because it is overpriced for the protection it provides. You can get the same ‘protection’ from term at fraction of the price. Some of the overage you pay for whole life is put into a savings plan earning 1 to 2 percent simple interest. This becomes that wonderful cash value they talk about.

You can borrow against the cash value in your policy. Indeed! They will let you borrow money that is yours and only charge you 8 percent interest. What a deal! Indeed, it is a good deal but only for the insurance company. They will not let you borrow any more than is covered by your ‘cash value’. That way there is no risk to them. If you default, they simply take your cash value to cover the loan repayment with interest.

Of course all of these ‘features’ are presented in the most positive of ways making you believe that you would be a fool not to give them your money and borrow it back at high interest.

Investing in insurance with profit in mind is like entering a donkey in the Kentucky Derby hoping to win big. You would be better off racing against the horses yourself.


Do you like rebates?

Sure, when I can get them, I like rebates, but they have to be substantial and on items I really need to entice me to take the chance.

Mail-in rebates are not a sure thing. It is not unusual to have your rebate request denied because of some minor silly proceedural detail that you failed to meet.

The best deal is one where you are paying a fair price for the item in question.

Rebates are merely a manufactureres admission that his product is over priced. You are always quoted the price with rebate allowance included but you are expected to pay the higher amount. The amount without rebate.

My take on this practice puts it in a catagory of fraudulent practices without penalty. When you are offered a mail-in rebate, offer to pay the lower price, the price with the rebate allowance included, then tell the seller, he can send in the mail-in rebate.

Free Credit Report

You have seen the ads on TV and heard them on the radio. They purport to let you in on a very closely guarded secret that lenders do not want you to know. Your credit score. They further imply that if you dont know your credit score, you can be overcharged for loans. All is well however, because they will provide you with a credit report free of charge if you enroll in their credit monitoring service.

Most of us dont know that we can get a free credit report for the asking by just calling any of the three credit reporting companies. The ads you see and hear are not made by any of the three credit reporting companies. These ads are made by credit monitoring services.  Enrollment in such a service costs about 25 dollars a month and will warn you if and when your identity has been stolen.

It is sort of like paying your car insurance provider an extra 300 dollars a year to tell you when you have had an accident.

After you enroll in monitoring service you will be given the free credit report that you could have gotten free from a credit reporting company without having to enroll in anything.

Once you find out how badly you have been taken, you can cancel your enrollment. Unfortunately it takes up to three months to process your cancellation, effectively costing you up to 75 dollars.

Okay, now, what can you do with the free credit report that cost you 75 dollars. Well, you can take it to a loan agent and discover it looks exactly like his copy of your credit report. Will it lower the cost of your loan? Not likely because that cost has already been determined by the information he has obtained from his copy of your credit report. By the way, that copy is not free and the cost of it will be charged to you as part of the cost of your loan.

Can you avoid that cost by providing your copy of the credit report? Not likely. Loan companies go to credit reporting companies for information to ensure the information is correct. You see, they do not trust you. If they did, there would be no need for credit reporting agencies. Loan companies would merely ask you a few questions and take you at your word.

Seems that the only thing this ‘free credit report’ scheme does is make people mad.

Free Shipping

Put the word ‘free’ in front of a product or service and some people act like mad, raveous, dogs. Throwing caution to the winds they push each other out of the way to be the first to get taken. And taken they will get because desirable products and services are never free.

Offers of free stuff are either schemes to dispose of junk at zero cost or lead-ins to scams and rip-offs. I know because I have been scamed and riped-off.

For instance, take the free shipping offer.

A recent search on the internet for a computer video board disclosed prices ranging from $99 to $150 for the board. There was either a modest charge for shipping and handling or it was FREE. You will never guess which price offered FREE shipping.

The vendor with the overpriced, $150 board offered free shipping.

The vendor with the reasonably priced, $99 board charged $15 shipping and handling. Do we need to explain that paying $114 for the item is better for the customer than paying $150? Another way to view this is to realize that normal shipping and handling will only cost you $15, but FREE shipping and handling is going to cost you $51.

Dont be fooled by that word ‘FREE’. In nearly every case, free stuff is free because no one wants it. Just because a vendor claims something is free, does not make it so. If the claim is being made through an ad that the vendor has paid for, you can bet that it is not merely a lie or misrepresentation but most likely the bait for a major scam or rip-off. Honest vendors dont play these games.

Purchasing Car Parts and Service

The best advice I can give is shop around. Not just for lowest price but also for highest quality. Normally you wont find both quality and low price in the same place.

As an example, lets take a recent repair requiring parts.

My 1995 Toyota Camry had 144,000 miles on it when the radiator started leaking. In addition, the battery was over four years old and needed replacing to make sure the car would remain dependable. Unknown at the time, the alternator was also ready to fry its regulator and needed repair. I ended up replacing the radiator, battery, repairing the alternator, and installing a new timing belt, waterpump, and camshaft oil seal.

Toyota recommends timing belts be changed out every 60,000 miles. Since these really are belts and not chains, the chance of the belt actually breaking is a real possiblity. If this happens when the engine is running at speed, the loss of syncronization could damage pistons and valves.

The waterpump is hidden under the timing belt cover. The camshaft seal is pressed into the block behind its shaft pulley. Since the timing belt cover needs to be removed to replace the timing belt it makes sense to also replace the seal and waterpump at the same time.

I always like to get the parts I need before I start the job. Sometimes I dont use all the parts I get but they can always be taken back or used at some later date. The important thing is that I have what I need to get the car running again because I will be without decent transportation when the car is partially dissasembled.

So I found myself shopping for radiator, waterpump, timing belt, alternator, and oil seal.

I first checked eBay and on-line internet car parts stores to get an idea of prices. New, genuine Toyota waterpumps were price over $200. Genuine toyota timing belt kits were also offered in the over $200 price range. Genuine Toyota alternators were also $200 plus items. I did not bother to check the radiator prices.

Both the alternators and waterpumps were available as remanufactured for about half the cost of genuine Toyota parts. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing what you get with a remanufactured part. You dont know who did the remanuafacturing, where they are located, or to what specifications they were tested.

No, the brand name is not a sure way of finding out because it is quite possible that one faclity rebuilds on contract for multiple brands. Also, there is no way of being sure that the core that was rebuilt was a genuine Toyota core and not some cheap third party knockoff. Third party knockoffs were also available new at prices less than Toyota was asking. Not surprizing, the warrantys on the the rebuilt and cheap knockoffs were measured in months while the genuine Toyota parts had warrantys measured in years.

You can avoid the high cost of genuine parts and still get genuine parts by buying from a salvage yard that salvages from late model, low milage cars. Of course there is no way of knowing where a salvaged part came from. Most likely it was from vehicle similar to the one being repaired but that is about all that can be determined with any degree of certainty. There is a big difference in price. For instance an alternator for my Toyota could be purchased at a salvage yard for as little as $50. I dont live next to a slavage yard so there would probably be anther $10 t0 $20 involved in shipping the part. Then there is the possible delay involved in waiting on its arrival. Sometimes even a $150 savings may not justify the added work and inconvenience involved.

The alternator was finally taken to a local alternator repair shop. The regulator was replaced and the alternator was tested for proper operation. Cost was $70 including tax.

The timing belt, waterpump, and oil seal were purchased from NAPA along with some degreaser and anifreeze. The total for that came to just under $90. The timing belt was one of the long life, high nitrile belts, costing $34. The waterpump was a well known Japaneese brand and cost $32.

A new radiator was priced at $150 at NAPA. We elected to take the radiator to a radiator repair shop. The shop wanted $100 to repair the radiator. One of the tanks was cracked and the repair was non-trivial. They also offered to sell us a new radiator (aluminum) for $100. We settled on the new, aluminum, radiator.

The battery should have been a no-brainer but turned out to be an education in how badly a consumer could be taken. It would have made sense to go back to the place the old battery had been purchased. After all, it only cost $50 and had served well for over four years. Unfortunately that place was no longer in business so we decided to go to the better known Pep Boys.

The Boys had the battery we needed. They had it in two flavors. One at $56 with a one year warranty, and one at $66 with a two year warranty. We figured $10 bucks up front was better than another $56 after 12 months so we loaded up the $66 battery and headed for the checkout counter. After exchanging some information they claimed they needed for the warranty, the final total came to $87. We declined. There had to be other Mexican battery makers that were not as proud of their product.

Turns out we were right. Walmart offered the same battery with two year warranty for $37.99. We got out of there for $50 and a voucher for a $7 refund if we brought the old battery back.

It took two days and $340 to service the car. Low estimate on having the work done at a garage, a qualified garage (not a dealer), was $1800. You can save quite a bit of green by getting your hands dirty. You can also save quite a bit of green by shopping for parts. The parts we used were of Toyota quality. Had we used genuine, new, Toyota parts, the bill for parts alone would have been upwards, of $700.

There is another way to look at this experience. We like to view this experience from the perspective of having saved money. The other perspective is that you can be taken to the cleaners in a significant way if you are not careful.


Free Money?

Zero down, zero percent interest, 2000 dollars cash back. So reads the impossibly generous car dealership offer. Almost makes you feel sorry for the dealer.

These people are not in business to give away cars or money. They are certainly not going to pay to advertize their generosity. Take another look at what is being offered.

Zero down? Sure, if you are willing to take out a loan at the dealership at an exhorbitant interest rate. Twice the going rate is not unusual.

But it was touted as zero percent interest. Not really. Look closer. What they were offering was defered payment of interest. No interest payment for the first year. They merely roll that 15 percent interest back into the principle for the fist year and you end up having to pay back a lot more money.

The 2000 dollars cash back is also a ploy to increase your debt. Yes, you get 2000 cash back but read the fine print. That is going to be the most expensive 2000 dollars you will ever receive because it is actually an unwanted loan at a very high interest rate.

Last but not least, you know something is very wrong when the cash back amount is more than anyone would be willing to pay for the vehicle.


Is gold really a safe investment? It is probably safe as long as you can keep it from being stolen, but how good an investment is it?

People in the gold business claim that the same 20 dollar gold piece that bought you a nice suit in the early 1800s will still buy you a nice suit today. True, but investors claim if that 20 dollar gold piece had been properly invested in the early 1800s the returns would allow the owner to buy the entire clothing store today.

Then there are a few other anoyances regarding ownership of gold. Takes money to buy gold. Money that has been taxed as income. When you sell your gold, the money it brings is treated as income and is subject to tax as well. Conceivably, if you sell and buy gold often, you may end up loosing a lot of money through taxation.