Unserviceable assembly? Don't be afraid to try and fix it yourself.

Tom
By Tom Suddard
Jun 19, 2024 | Porsche, Porsche Cayman, Column, Project car | Posted in Columns | From the Aug. 2024 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

I’m sorry, but this column is an unserviceable assembly. You see, modern magazines are really complicated, and when a column like this happens, it’s just not feasible for mere mortals like us to open them up and fix them. Instead, we’ll need to replace the whole page as an assembly–and that comes from the central publishing office in Germany. Ordering a new column will take four to six weeks, cost $15,000, and of course you’ll have to turn this column in to prevent a core charge. Oh, and sorry, but we’re currently out of loaner stories. 

Sorry, I know that previous paragraph was ridiculous. And you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not talking about magazines: I’m talking about dealership service departments and the growing trend of them not, well, servicing stuff. I’ve never really been one for dealer service anyway, but my latest project has left me astounded at the system that’s been built. 

See, a year ago I picked up a broken 2014 Porsche Cayman for just $15,000. Why so cheap? Because it was missing fifth and sixth gear. 

[$15,000 Porsche: Are we stupid, or the smartest bargain hunters you know?]

The Porsche dealer told the previous owner that the transmission had an internal problem, and it could (you guessed it) only be replaced as an assembly. 

The price for the job? About $15,000. That’s right: Porsche treats this fairly simple six-speed manual transmission as a magic box that can’t be opened. 

How do I know it’s fairly simple? Because after my wife and I drove the car cross-country from Seattle to Florida–the whole way with just four gears–I tore out the transmission myself, cracked it open, and found the problem: A dowel pin holding the fifth- and sixth-gear shift fork to its rail had fallen out and was now stuck to the magnet in the transmission’s sump. After ordering a properly sized dowel pin and some Loctite from McMaster-Carr, the transmission shifts perfectly, and I’ll pop it back into the car whenever that new clutch gets here.

Instead of fixing the problem for $15,000, I’d fixed it for less than $100. To be fair, Porsche’s quote included a new clutch and flywheel, but the difference is still absolutely staggering. 

Total time invested? Roughly a day of labor, and that includes a leisurely breakfast and an early dinner. And that’s with no factory transmission parts, diagrams or service manuals. I think I spent less than an hour actually inside the transmission–the vast majority of my time was spent removing and reinstalling it, something a new transmission would have also required. 

Across all brands, the trend seems to be accelerating in this direction: Engines, transmissions, differentials and more are all incredibly serviceable, but the big buildings full of marque experts seem to have lost interest in servicing them. It’s not just Porsche, either. I’ve seen firsthand the “assembly” replacement from Honda, BMW and Ford, and any forum will tell you horror stories from your favorite brand, too.

So how did we get here? Well, I see two reasons. First, cars have gotten a lot more complicated than they used to be. And second, cars have gotten a lot, lot more reliable. 

Fifty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon at all for a car to come into the dealer with a serious issue. Today, they’re so rare that I literally wrote magazine headlines about scooping up a mythical broken modern Porsche for cheap. 

This lack of constant problems means there isn’t much work for a transmission rebuilder at every Porsche dealer, which means it’s tough to justify the special tools, training and salary that person would require. And when problems do happen, rebuilding a transmission like a modern 10-speed auto or the six-speed DSG in my GTI is a lot more complicated than rebuilding a three-speed automatic from the ’70s. 

It’s also worth mentioning that my home garage has different standards than the Porsche dealership full of GT3 owners. When this Cayman eventually leaves my garage, I won’t mind if the additional synchros I’m suddenly exploring aren’t brand-new, or if I reused an inconsequential “one-time-use” bolt or two. 

But a service department lives and dies on its comeback rate and survey scores, both of which incentivize the parts cannon and “replace the assembly” approach. Especially with warranty work, the objective doesn’t seem to be to repair the car in the most efficient manner possible; it seems to be to repair the car with the highest possible likelihood of success at all costs. And I’m lying to myself if I say that cracking open this transmission on my welding table is as likely to last another 100,000 miles as replacing the whole thing with a brand-new one from the Porsche mothership.

So what’s the solution? Well, you’re reading it. A dealer’s service has its place, but it’s important to remember that its approach isn’t perfect for every situation, and your local independent shop (or your home garage) might be far more adventurous and find a better way to fix it. Nothing is truly unfixable, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty–or at least get a second opinion.

Oh, and if your Porsche dealer just quoted you $15,000 for a new transmission, please let me know. Of course, those can only be replaced as an assembly, but I’d make you a very fair offer to take the car off your hands.

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Comments
ClearWaterMS
ClearWaterMS HalfDork
6/19/24 4:57 p.m.

i'm suprised you didn't touch on right to repair and the concept that owners of items should have the same access to diagnostic data, tooling, and spare parts that professionals do.  

this issue doesn't just affect expensive german sports cars but things like farming tractors, cell phones, and a host of other things.  

theruleslawyer
theruleslawyer Reader
6/19/24 6:17 p.m.

It seems that more and more its being done to thwart home and 3rd party repair all together. If they don't repair anything its probably a lot easier to side step any legal requirements.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/19/24 6:35 p.m.

If it's an unserviceable assembly, Porsche also doesn't have to stock spare parts - only complete assemblies. From a parts department standpoint, I can see the appeal.

It could very well be that Tom has access to the same tooling and spare parts that the Porsche pros do.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Publisher
6/19/24 6:40 p.m.

I thought about getting into right to repair, and am clearly an advocate for it, but just didn't have the space in this column destined for print to do it justice. I'll cover it in detail in the future. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/19/24 7:34 p.m.
ClearWaterMS said:

i'm suprised you didn't touch on right to repair and the concept that owners of items should have the same access to diagnostic data, tooling, and spare parts that professionals do.  

this issue doesn't just affect expensive german sports cars but things like farming tractors, cell phones, and a host of other things.  

You assume that professionals have that information too.

Getrag is notorious for not selling repair parts and not even providing service information like tolerances, torque specs, anything. Replace as assembly.  The third party people who rebuild them must be inventing their own specs to be able to do what they do.

 

Audi didn't sell engine block components for some of their V8s.  If it needed bearings, there were no part numbers other than a shortblock.  If it needed rings... well to be fair the rings lasted longer than the coated aluminum bores so this was unlikely.

 

Fiat take this to the extreme.  Wiper switch is bad in your Dodge Dart? It's only sold as a steering column assembly.  Need stabilizer links for your Promaster? The only part number is a stabilizer bar assembly.

 

JimS
JimS Reader
6/20/24 1:45 a.m.

Talking extremes. Many years ago I had a Massachusetts Chevy parts dept tell me they couldn't sell me a serpentine belt for my z28. It had to be installed by their service dept. Went to a parts store and got the belt. 

bOttOmfeeder
bOttOmfeeder New Reader
6/20/24 9:20 a.m.

Many times the manufacturer doesn't release a separate part because it's installed at the factory as an assembly (a hose that's pre installed by a supplier on a water pump).   They would need to release a new prints for the hose and the pump.   Every release costs money and smaller parts don't justify the cost of a separate part.   

ClearWaterMS
ClearWaterMS HalfDork
6/20/24 9:38 a.m.
bOttOmfeeder said:

Many times the manufacturer doesn't release a separate part because it's installed at the factory as an assembly (a hose that's pre installed by a supplier on a water pump).   They would need to release a new prints for the hose and the pump.   Every release costs money and smaller parts don't justify the cost of a separate part.   

I don't know that I fully understand this line of thought.  any assembly that isn't machined from a single piece of material is made up of parts.  In order to make any assembly today you have to have instructions and documentation on how to make said part.  A turn signal stalk for example that contains current carrying metal, etched plastic, etc. wasn't made from a single piece of material... do they not have cad diagrams for those?  Did the manufacturer not likely outsource the creation of the plastic / wire / etc.  

sure the automotive manufacturer purchased an assembly from a supplier, but that doesn't exempt the supplier from the same rules/requirements but that supplier didn't "replicate" the thing out of thin air, it was assembled from parts/pieces.  
 

WonkoTheSane
WonkoTheSane GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
6/20/24 9:46 a.m.
ClearWaterMS said:
bOttOmfeeder said:

Many times the manufacturer doesn't release a separate part because it's installed at the factory as an assembly (a hose that's pre installed by a supplier on a water pump).   They would need to release a new prints for the hose and the pump.   Every release costs money and smaller parts don't justify the cost of a separate part.   

I don't know that I fully understand this line of thought.  any assembly that isn't machined from a single piece of material is made up of parts.  In order to make any assembly today you have to have instructions and documentation on how to make said part.  A turn signal stalk for example that contains current carrying metal, etched plastic, etc. wasn't made from a single piece of material... do they not have cad diagrams for those?  Did the manufacturer not likely outsource the creation of the plastic / wire / etc.  

sure the automotive manufacturer purchased an assembly from a supplier, but that doesn't exempt the supplier from the same rules/requirements but that supplier didn't "replicate" the thing out of thin air, it was assembled from parts/pieces.  
 

Right, but take the water pump assembly.   Fiat says to supplier, make us part number XX that's designed like this: 

  • (1) housing
  • (1) impeller shaft
  • (1) seal
  • (1) impeller
  • (1) impeller shaft
  • (1) bearing
  • (1) washer
  • (1) nut
  • (1) hose
  • (2) hose clamps

Now, they only have to stock XX.   I would assume that every individual part costs at least $10,000 to separate by the time you count people's salaries to manage converting the internal part numbers to the external (XX) format, manage logistics about how many to have on hand, where to store them, where to ship them, etc., etc.   I'm sure they've figured out the $$ number of overhead for every part.    Look at it over 5 or 10 years, how long will you have to sit on hoses until it becomes a problem (storage?), etc., etc.   None of that is profit.   If you're selling, say, just hoses, that might only make your company 10-20k after 10 years.    That's not nearly enough profit to satisfy the stock holders, to which you have a legal obligation to maximize their profits.

Not defending (or agreeing with!) the practice, but I can absolutely see how they're arriving at their decisions.   They like money and it doesn't hurt them a bit if you have to order a $500 water pump assembly for $10 hose.  

ClearWaterMS
ClearWaterMS HalfDork
6/20/24 10:02 a.m.
WonkoTheSane said:
ClearWaterMS said:
bOttOmfeeder said:

Many times the manufacturer doesn't release a separate part because it's installed at the factory as an assembly (a hose that's pre installed by a supplier on a water pump).   They would need to release a new prints for the hose and the pump.   Every release costs money and smaller parts don't justify the cost of a separate part.   

I don't know that I fully understand this line of thought.  any assembly that isn't machined from a single piece of material is made up of parts.  In order to make any assembly today you have to have instructions and documentation on how to make said part.  A turn signal stalk for example that contains current carrying metal, etched plastic, etc. wasn't made from a single piece of material... do they not have cad diagrams for those?  Did the manufacturer not likely outsource the creation of the plastic / wire / etc.  

sure the automotive manufacturer purchased an assembly from a supplier, but that doesn't exempt the supplier from the same rules/requirements but that supplier didn't "replicate" the thing out of thin air, it was assembled from parts/pieces.  
 

Right, but take the water pump assembly, right?   Fiat says to supplier, make us part number XX that's designed like this: 

  • (1) housing
  • (1) impeller shaft
  • (1) seal
  • (1) impeller
  • (1) impeller shaft
  • (1) bearing
  • (1) washer
  • (1) nut
  • (1) hose
  • (2) hose clamps

Now, they only have to stock XX.   I would assume that every individual part costs at least $10,000 to separate by the time you count people's salaries to manage converting the internal part numbers to the external (XX) format, manage logistics about how many to have on hand, where to store them, where to ship them, etc., etc.   I'm sure they've figured out the $$ number of overhead for every part.    Look at it over 5 or 10 years, how long will you have to sit on hoses until it becomes a problem (storage?), etc., etc.   None of that is profit.   If you're selling, say, just hoses, that might only make your company 10-20k after 10 years.    That's not nearly enough profit to satisfy the stock holders, to which you have a legal obligation to maximize their profits.

Not defending (or agreeing with!) the practice, but I can absolutely see how they're arriving at their decisions.   They like money and it doesn't hurt them a bit if you have to order a $500 water pump assembly for $10 hose.  

just offering a compromise.  If a company is unwilling to offer parts individually, they have to offer the intellectual property that enables others to do it for them.  If you're not willing to warehouse each hose, bearing, etc etc.  Make the specs and configurations for each of those readily available and allow the aftermarket to decide if they want to make those parts.  

I think if a company was forced with either making available their IP or warehousing all of those parts, they would find ways of partnering with other companies that can do it for them.  This could create a whole cottage industry of companies that have the ability to machine and warehouse these parts and in exchange for them offering those parts for the larger manufacturer they get to be the exclusive re-manufacturer ensuring the opportunity to ensure these assemblies don't end up in land fills.  A perfect example of this working is the cell phone repair places that are able to support small shops by offering the ability to repair consumer electronics that manufacturers refuse to repair.  

The last benefit of this to the manufacturer is that they would be able to stop manufacturing parts/assemblies faster once the high volume purchaser was done with them.  I.E. if the company making fiat water pumps has a partner that handles repair/warehousing/etc. they can anticipate the number of NOS parts they have to manufacturer after Fiat is done /w that assembly and not have to warehouse nearly as many, keep the tooling available to manufacture them later.  

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