As you may or may not know, we've been having a series of automotive (mis-)adventures with our 120,000-mile Ford Windstar van. Let's see... there was the time the emergency brake froze up (followed by air in the brake lines after they fixed it, and a resulting inability to stop the car, which we literally discovered minutes before heading off on a 60-mile trip); there was the headlights randomly turning off while we were doing 70mph in the backwoods of Michigan at night; there was the transmission replacement in August (ever broken down in Utah 60 miles from the nearest town? I don't recommend it); the braking system replacement when we got to WA; the broken front sway-bars... you see where I'm going with this?
In this latest installment of Fun With Ford, we learn about the rack and pinion.
When we came to WA we had the van checked out by a local Ford dealer, who recommended almost $2000 in repairs. Among these items was a full replacement of the power steering apparatus (rack and pinion). Since we'd just poured $3000 in for the transmission, we only accepted the "you can't drive without this" repairs, and told them just to flush the transmission fluid and we'd deal with it.
After awhile, though, we started to get this whining, grinding noise. The noise increased with the RPM of the engine and got much worse when we turned the wheel. Once it got too loud to procrastinate any longer, we found a Goodyear repair shop conveniently close to our house and took the van in for a second opinion (without telling them that we'd already been advised to replace the rack and pinion). To our pleasure, they said that all we needed to replace was the power steering pump (not cheap, $450-ish, but still not as expensive as the $750 quote for the rack and pinion). They assured us that the rack and pinion was fine. We felt cool and smart for having outfoxed the dealership who'd tried to sell us something we didn't need. We replaced the pump, and assumed that would be the end of it.
But when we got the van back, the pump was still making noise. The guy told us that newly-installed pumps are still noisy in about 30% of cases, and that it would probably quiet down in 3-5 days, but that if it didn't we should bring it back and they'd re-replace it for free (under warranty). Of course, it didn't quiet down. So we left the van in the shop for another couple days.
When we got it back it was nice and quiet, and once again we breathed easy and thought we'd put the whole issue behind us. But a couple weeks later, the whining was back again, worse than the first noisy pump. Back to Goodyear for a third time. This time they told us—surprise!—that the rack and pinion were leaking fluid (hence the three ruined pumps, none of which can really do what they need to do if their power steering fluid is dripping out) and needed to be replaced.
At this point I'd just like to mention the numerous exchanges we've had that go something like this: "How many miles do you have?", "120,000", "It should be fine... what's the make?", "Ford", "Oh."
They quoted us $570. We told them that (with the pump we'd already paid for) that put us at $1000, when we'd gotten a $750 quote from a dealer for the same job. We said we should only have to pay the lower quote price minus what we'd already paid them for the pump (that had been ruined through their negligence at not finding the fluid leak earlier). They said they had no idea how anyone could do the job for $750, but that if we brought in the quote they'd match it. We felt cool and smart for having outfoxed their expensive quote. We brought in our dealership quote. They took a look and told us it was for the rack and pinion only, so that in fact their quote was cheaper. We felt like weasely fools.
In the end we took their quote, and they replaced the rack, pinion and a new pump (thankfully, still under warranty and thus free). So for the fourth time, we're "putting it all behind us".
Which is to say, Tune in next week (or next month, or whenever the inevitable happens) for our next installment of Fun with Ford!