For those following along, the Focus and I had arrived in Rexburg, ID, because she wasn’t playing nicely. The problems were legion—most notable among them was the rear suspension, which was so misaligned as to leave me feeling, when I took certain turns or was driving on uneven roads, as if a fish were flopping its tail in my back pocket.
I’d spoken with the local Mormon bishop, J, and per his suggestion on Monday morning I took the Focus into Claire and Dee’s Tire shop. The folks there were very kind and honest. They found a litany of problems and allowed me to go back under the lift with them as they walked me through various possible fixes. The mechanic lucky enough to draw me and L’il Blue that morning was Brad. He was in his mid-40’s, handsome, kind, and, as time passed, a good teacher and explainer as I followed along.
Five hours later all of the following had all been undertaken—new front brakes. I’d checked the pads when I got new tires in Spokane and they’d appeared fine; however, I’d continued to hear some grating and grinding ever since. The problem was that both calipers had broken and the pistons that retract the inner pads were not retracting the inner pads; as such, they were shot and the rotors worn. So the rotors were re-ground, new calipers and pads installed, and ever since she’s been stopping cleanly and properly.
The tail pipe had rusted through at the midway point of the car, so a foot was cut off and new pipe soldiered in place. The left front sway bar linkage was shot; this isn’t the end of the world but it was loud as all get up, so when the torch was out for the tail pipe the linkage was cut off, which has left me with a much, much quieter ride. A new tie-rod was installed on the left front; this, in combination with an overall alignment, has tightened up the ride and brought the bouncing and swaying largely under control.
The big problem that remains is the rear suspension, which is so corroded as to be irreparable. You simply can’t adjust it because the bolts are rusted beyond turning. In order to do any work on the rear suspension you’d have to cut everything off and install all new parts, which would be exceptionally laborious as well as cost more than the the Focus is worth.
The most notable results of this are that both rear tires are out of camber, which means that when you look at them they are not resting 100% vertically. This isn’t the end of the world—she’s still very drivable and mostly this means that the tires aren’t going to wear as evenly as they should. So it goes.
There is a looseness in the left rear that continues to cause some fish-tail-swaying when on uneven roads, but as this cannot be fixed I’m learning to live with it. It’s not going to break apart or cause me to crash, and mostly I simply have to drive slowly when I’m on uneven roads. Likely that annoys drivers behind me, but then this isn’t their trip so who cares about their concerns?!, and really, all they have to do is pass me.
(This latter point has clearly been a source of great difficulty for a large number of drivers who insist upon placing their front end up the Focus’ tail-pipe, an act they undertake seemingly on the belief that doing so will somehow empower the Focus to greater speeds. I wish I could explain to them that this simply isn’t how things work, but sadly I cannot from my position driving the Focus. I just wave them on and hope them the best. I cannot say if they take it.)
After all this work the Focus handles significantly better. She’s under much tighter control, shimmies and whinges less, and other than a power steering pump that growls and whines when I start her up she’s running great. I feel significantly more confident in her. She’s never going to be a perfectly smooth stable ride, but with a little luck and continued care I think she’s going to keep on keeping on.
To date I’ve spent about $900 on the Blue One. I’m writing this from just north of Phoenix, AZ, where I’ve come to rest after putting on just over 2,000 miles so far. I realize that $.45/mile isn’t the best deal ever, but then we’ve managed to have some fun adventures, meet some interesting people, and I’m hoping to get many, many more miles out of her and bring that overall per-mile cost way down.
In the week since the repairs I’ve driven from Idaho through Wyoming and down into Utah, where I stopped at both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. From there I made it through Utah and into Arizona, visited the Grand Canyon, and have spent the past couple days hanging out with family north of Phoenix. I’ll get more details down about those adventures sometime soon, but for now, and with fingers deeply intertwined, the dude abides.