Auto Exorcism?

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May 6, 2013 by phicks2012

I own a 1999 Ford Expedition, and (despite a rather healthy fuel appetite — she’s an older model, after all) The Beast has always been a great vehicle. She’s been low-maintenance for the most part, and as tough as nails. However, over the past year some problems have developed with the Old Girl.

First there was a dead battery that was replaced before I found out the hard way that the actual problem was that the alternator was going — and spent two hours sitting on the side of a busy expressway on a dark night on Cinco de Mayo 2012 waiting for a tow. A new alternator seemed to fix the problem, but later I started seeing bizarre electrical manifestations such as might have given the Ghost Hunters pause. Possibly I should have called THEM to investigate.

The Anti-theft light would start flashing and The Beast would refuse to crank, thinking that she was being stolen, and behaving as though she were out of gas when that wasn’t the case. Lights would flicker or stay lit on the dashboard, there were strange clicking noises from misfiring relays, and things like the radio and the heater would come on and stay on when there wasn’t even a key in the ignition — of course, running the battery down. I started having to disconnect the battery when the veicle wasn’t in use, and was beginning to think that The Beast really WAS possessed! Cue the Ghost Hunters again!

One mechanic thought that (rather than ectoplasmic interference)  I had a feedback problem with my radio and CD changer, but that didn’t turn out to be the case, The Audio techs I went to were shocked (given that the radio and CD changer are actually older even than the car), but they were both in wonderful shape. Check that off the list.

So, a second mechanic claimed eventually that the issue was a leak. They said that this was a known issue with 1998 and 1999 Expeditions  and that water was getting behind the dash to some module or other and causing the problem. He advised replacing the windshield.

Well, it was cheaper to call a glass company myself rather than having them call one, so I called for a house call, and the glass tech told me the seal around the windshield was fine. He said the seals looked good, and that I’d be wasting my money to replace the windshield. *Sighs* Back to Square One.

So, I took her back to the second mechanic, who proved their point (sort of) by getting the windshield to leak just a little using a high-pressure hose, but the leak wasn’t in the right place and the problem kept recurring when it rained. I was finally advised to try a body shop instead of a mechanic.

So I took her to a body shop, and after running water over The Beast for most of a day they couldn’t find the supposed leak either. Sorry, no leak, so I was about ready to call in an Exorcist for sure. I’m (almost) serious!

Then a friend suggested I take her to an actual Ford dealership to have them plug her into their computer and diagnose the problem. I hadn’t done that previously, because in my experience the local dealership I’d dealt with in the past charged at least 300% as much as anyone else for repairs (and MUCH more than I realistically could afford), but he suggested getting them to diagnose the problem ONLY, saying I should be able to get that done for less than $100.

So I called one dealership (hereafter referred to as Dealership No.1), and they did seem to know EXACTLY what was happening. Apparently, it IS a known issue with 1998 and 1999 Expeditions, and 99.99% of the time is the result of a windshield leak on the driver’s side that allows moisture to get behind the dash to something called the Smart Junction Box and to the Fuse Box located below it, causing them to act up until they dry out again. I got an estimate that was nearly twice what my friend thought it would be just to look for the problem, and while that would be deducted from the repair cost if I let them do the work, the repair price was — prohibitive. So, I said “Yeah, I’ll think about it”, and called another dealership just to get another opinion.

The second dealership (to be known as Dealership No.2) agreed completely about what the problem was, but insisted I’d absolutely HAVE to replace both the Smart Junction Box and Fuse Box (literally EVERYONE else had told me that this probably wouldn’t be necessary), and the repair estimate was three times that of the first dealership. I figured “Yep, I’m a woman and they figure they can scare me into spending a bundle”, so I told them I’d be taking my car elsewhere and called a third dealership.

This one (to be designated Dealership No.3) again agreed 100% about the likely source of the problem, which was reassuring, but insisted that replacing the Smart Junction Box and Fuse Box shouldn’t be necessary if the car was behaving when the weather was dry. Amazingly, they suggested going to someone else who had been finding and repairing similar leaks for them, and I made an appointment to take The Beast by today or tomorrow — with an estimate of less than $100 to reseal the windshield unless they had to remove it and it broke in the process. Guess what!! Less than 30% of what the first dealership quoted, and less than 7% of what the second dealership quoted. I was delighted!!

I also was very hopeful that having them “lay hands” on my windshield would cast out the electronic demons and restore The Beast to good health, but when I went by this morning it turned out their “Glass Expert” refused even to look at it. He said my windshield was not leaking — though how he could know that without checking did baffle me — and that I would be wasting my money. Wonderful! A psychic Glassman!

So I gave up and took it down the street to Dealership No.3, whose diagnostic estimate was (in fact) less than $100 and who found a leak on the side of my windshield, repaired it, and promised me that the work was guaranteed. They assured me that if I had any more water issues I could bring it back and they’d take care of it. We’ll see. It’s expected to rain tonight, so it shouldn’t take me long to find out, I guess!

It cost me more than $100 to get the diagnosis and repairs both done (though still less than half of what Dealership No.1 quoted for the same work), but if The Beast is cured of her incontinence (Depenz, I’m told, wouldn’t have worked) and the resulting Psychosis (or Demonic Possession) is handled, then it will be worth it!! If I need to take the Old Girl to a Ford dealership again in the future I can also guarantee that it will likely be to Dealership No.3. rather than to Dealership No.1, and that the chance of my ever patronizing Dealership No.2 is about as likely as my winning the Nobel Prize for Microbiology.

So wish me luck!

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May 2013


I am an active, outgoing person interested in all sorts of things and all sorts of people! I'm constantly discovering new interests, and expect that to continue right into the grave!

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