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Redusernab Asks: What’s the Worst Example of Unnecessary Complication You’ve Ever Run Across?

Robert Emslie May 5, 2017 Redusernab Asks 66 Comments

Ahh, there it is in all its glory and denuded of its plastic frippery—the Audi 2.8-litre 30V  V6. Did you know that in order to replace the thermostat you have to pull the entire front end—bumper, lights and radiator—away from the car AND remove the timing belts? Yeah, don’t ask me how I know this.

Unnecessary complications, we hate ’em, right? What’s your favorite least favorite complex solution to a seemingly simple task?

Image: ©2017 Redusernab/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved 

  • neight428

    My ’81 Corvette project was abandoned due to a thousand of these things. Having to pull the radiator and have the ensuing chemically suspect wet mess all over everything you have to work on for the rest of the day is annoying. All the more so when you have to do so just to get one suspension arm mounting bolt out of the frame. Of course you have to pull the mechanical fan and shroud that had an eighth inch of clearance to the body and frame themselves too. 1960’s tech crammed into a smaller package. There is a reason why a clapped out Nova was more money.

  • Alff

    Registering a car coming from an out-of-state trust in Missouri. Took six weeks and six trips to the DOL.

    • Missouri is the Vehicle Title Nazi State™. For example, did you know that to title a home-built motorcycle in Missouri as a “Special Construction,” you must show the Highway Patrol inspector a sales receipt for every NEW part you used (with further documentation indicating they are new parts never installed on a vehicle, as needed and requested). For all USED parts, you must provide a photocopy of the front and back of the title for every vehicle that parts were salavaged from, regardless of whether the vehicle in-state or out-of-state. It’s truly absurd.

      • Alff

        I agree with your characterization. It’s why I left our sailboat registered in KS and considered keeping the IA registration on the Ford.

      • Kiefmo

        Yeesh, they’re worse than the GRM201x challenge and the LeMons supreme court combined!

  • onrails

    My 2003 Mini Cooper S had what had to have been a last minute bandaid in development. The power steering pump had what looked (had to have been) like an old school computer fan aimed up at it that was also right in the splash pattern of the front tires and the water and winter salt/grit would eat the bearing.. After replacing 2 of them (every 30k miles like clockwork), I started pulling it off the car in the winter when I put the snow tires on. Put it back on when the summers were put on. But it was nearly the lowest point on the car and in a horrible spot for reliability’s sake.

    • Batshitbox

      Just wait ’till you need to replace the alternator.

      • onrails

        Ha! Too funny… at 200k miles the alternator bearings started to go. I did my research seeing what it would take to replace it. And then logged into Grassroots Motorsports and sold it to someone for the $201x challenge. It went to a good cause, I got some money and found a used Solstice GXP down south and brought it home.

      • Kiefmo

        Sounds like this car could have used a foldaway clamshell for the entire front clip, like all good minicars that try to cram a 2 liter engine into a 1 liter engine bay.

        • Vairship

          Yup, same thing would have helped out any PT Cruiser mechanic.

      • JRise

        Reminds me of my daughters Opel Astra. I had to change the alternator on the very evening when she had got her drivers license. Looked faily easy, but the long bolt it pivots on could not be extracted, as it hit the inner side of the engine bay. Had to remove 2 of the engine mounts, get another jack to lift the engine a few inches to get it out.
        Upon reinstalling I found a simple solution: Simply insert the bolt the opposite way, and put the nut on the end where the space was tight.
        Next time it will be easy, but it will probably never fail again as long as she has the car.

    • Professor Homernose

      THANK YOU
      The steering system on that car is a nightmare. I understand the push to have electric PS pumps for increased efficiency, but…they could have put it anywhere..

  • P161911

    My current Chevy Volt has two different charging modes for Level 1 (110V). There is an 8 amp mode and a 12 amp mode. In the 8 amp mode, it takes 12+ hours to charge the ~35 mile range battery. In the 12 amp mode it takes 8 hours or less. The default is 8 amp mode. For the car to charge in 12 amp mode, you have to go into the touch screen and drill down two different menus to change the charge mode EVERY TIME YOU START THE CAR! It wouldn’t be so bad, but the 8 amp mode doesn’t get the car nearly charged while I’m at work and sometimes not even overnight if I go anywhere after work. No Level 2 charger at home or at work (yet).

    • Matt Richter

      You can set it to remember your home location and it will use the GPS to determine if it should use 12 amp mode.

      • P161911

        That only solves half the problem, I need it to charge in 12 amp mode at work too.

  • P161911

    The 1990s version of Chevy’s LT-1 small block V-8. The moisture sensitive Opti-Spark distributor was directly behind the leak prone water pump. And in F-body applications the LT-1 had to be dropped out the bottom of the car to change the two rear spark plugs.

  • engineerd

    Because a dipstick is too…easy. It’s a nifty system, and measures the quality of the oil as well as the quantity. This is used to determine the oil changes, but why no dip stick, BMW? Why?!

    • Rennsport 964

      The Boxster (986/986S) has a dipstick in addition to a digital oil level sensor. Thing is, though, the sensor is far more reliable and easier to read than the dipstick.

    • Sjalabais

      I grew up in a non-technical family. Patching a flat bicycle tire was considered an event of mechanical prowess. So when I got my first car, a 1977 Volvo 242, I “checked” the oil by taking out the dipstick – yes, it appeared wet – and putting it back in. Then I drove 800km through the freezing Scandinavian winter en route to Germany, until the oil warning light came on. And it went off again. In Torslanda, Sweden, I asked at a shop if I should be concerned. They laughed at my oil checking method, said I’d presumably driven about 1000km on oil vapor, and thus badly burned the head gasket. Also, the cable from sensor to oil warning light was broken, a wonder it worked for a second. This being a Volvo, I shrugged, bought 25 litres of thick tractor oil (25W30) and went on driving another 20000km on this engine.

      Tl;dr – not everybody gets the simplest car maintenance tasks, even if they are simple to learn, too. Car should have a dipstick though, especially if marketed as a driver’s car, I mean…c’mon.

      • Batshitbox

        TL;DR – Replacing the head gasket is an overly complicated way of achieving the same result as changing the oil.

  • Replacing the windshield in an MGB requires disconnecting the battery and draining the coolant. The windshield. The battery. The coolant. These should have nothing to do with each other, but they do.

    Why, you may ask? Because the windshield’s frame must be removed from the car and disassembled in order to replace the glass. Fair enough, but the designers chose to place the frame’s retaining bolts in just the right place so the dash is in the way, meaning the dash has to be moved ever so slightly, but just enough to require the disconnection of the wiring harness (hence the battery) and the removal of the Bourdon tube temperature unit from the engine block (hence the coolant draining).

    Nothing whatsoever would have prevented them from locating the offending bolts in a slightly different position and avoiding all of this extra trouble. There’s plenty of room to do so. They never bothered, despite producing the car for nearly twenty years.

    • 0A5599

      Why would you need a Bourdon tube temperature gauge on an MG? Couldn’t you tell it’s overheating by listening and hearing the engine still running?

      • That’s a rough guide, but an MG isn’t really overheating until the engine abruptly seizes.

        An unfortunate ambiguity is that this is also the one reliable sign of truly low oil pressure.

    • Rover 1

      Changing the clutch in a Rover 2000TC P6 requires draining the coolant and removing the carburettors on their manifold as the manifold is part of the cooling system. In which case, if you’re doing this, then removing the radiator is helpful, so that you can move the engine forward as it’s too difficult to get to the gearbox bolts. Then you might as well pull the whole drivetrain assembly out and take the gearbox off the motor away from the car. And change the clutch.

  • On he opener: Having a sliding bumper to make room is a brilliant idea, whatever internet mechanics say. If you’ve stabbed a radiator before, two more inches seem welcome.

    My answer: here’s how you adjust the mirrors in a 944/1:
    1. The side selector is rocking forth and back, so you wiggle the adjuster with your left hand to see which side is activated.
    2. Adjust the first mirror.
    3. Move left hand to steering wheel.
    4. Move the right hand to the side selector switch, switch, and move it back to the steering wheel.
    5. Move left hand to the adjuster and adjust second mirror.

    Ergonomics from the 70ies…

    • cap’n fast

      desk top publishing is the godsend of us all. finding anything in a VAG handbook is a afternoon affair. common descriptions of parts or activities seem alien to german engineers.

      • I’m a native German speaker, and prefer the English parts catalog over the German for that exact reason: fewer terms for similar items.

  • Victor

    If you ever need to replace the starter on a Cadillac Northstar engine you will remember this post.
    They placed it under the intake manifold.

    • Fuhrman16

      Toyota did the same thing with the V8 that was used in the Tundra and Lexus LS/SC.

    • Kiefmo

      “I mean, it’s a dirt-simple electric motor. That technology is over a century old. Why would it ever fail?”

      – Northstar engineer, later hired by Toyota

    • anonymic

      That certainly seems inconvenient, but you never replace a starter on a Northstar. The starter fails to tell you that its time to replace the engine.

      • cap’n fast

        the starter is the actual oil level indicator in the northstar engine design. after all the oil has leaked out of the engine and the reciprocating assembly is seized into a solid mass the starter burns out the series winding and releases the smoke therein contained. thus the starter indicates to the driver that the oil level is below operational requirements. dealer serviceable only item.

        • anonymic

          Damn right its dealer only, have you ever tried to get that smoke back into the starter? You used to be able to get the Lucas smoke, but unless you’ve got a fortune to get old stock, you’re stuck with the Delphi crap.

  • crank_case

    Electronic handbrake / ebrake in manual transmission cars

    Adding complexity to a secondary braking system in the name of freeing center console space.

    A generation will never know the illicit joy of figuring out the clutch out, tank hand brake, turn in routine.

    In a decade, they’ll probably bring back an e-drift button on the 2027 electric focus RS. It will look like the B button​ on an Xbox controller

    • Batshitbox

      What?!? How do you do a decent uphill launch from a red light without a handbrake?

      • Mike

        Hill start assist. My car knows it’s on a hill and locks the brakes until I start letting off the clutch.

        • Batshitbox

          Oy, talk about complicated systems; I hope those sensors don’t fail and leave you in the lurch (hah!). That’s actually a feature I appreciate as a motorcyclist in San Francisco. I’ve learned to stay well back from anything that might have a clutch (or between the lanes.)

      • acarr260

        My ’81 Scirocco (5-speed) no longer has a handbrake. I actually took it in to be services when it froze up one winter, but the mechanics just disabled it instead (no, my car never went back to that shop). You have to find the friction point, add some gas, and then take off. I’ve never heard of someone using a handbrake to take off uphill until today.

        • A friend of mine from Germany would place his Vanagon (of course!) in neutral and set the handbrake at every stoplight, regardless of grade or duration of stop. He said this was how driving was taught back home.

          I was surprised by this, but he was equally surprised to learn that I never used a handbrake (or foot-operated parking brake, a matter of separate surprise for him) in traffic, even when starting uphill. I was taught to use the same method you described.

          • AlexG55

            Also how it’s taught in the UK, especially if you’re at the front of the queue. The Highway Code says:

            In stationary queues of traffic, drivers should apply the parking brake and, once the following traffic has stopped, take their foot off the footbrake to deactivate the vehicle brake lights. This will minimise glare to road users behind until the traffic moves again.

            Also, it means that you’re less likely to be punted into the intersection if someone rear-ends you.

            • Hillman_Hunter

              Yep, that’s how I learned too. The hill-holder in my GTI still freaks me out.

            • Vairship

              Yup, that’s the European way of uphill “launch”. I presume it never became prevalent in the US due to parking brakes like on the Chevy Corvair (consisting of a transversely mounted lever under the steering column, i.e. above the driver’s knees) which make the European method nigh-impossible: disengaging the parking brake involves pushing it forward far enough that you’re doubled over and unable to engage gears/see the road.

      • Kiefmo

        Practice.

        Now try doing it in a FWD car with a worn out or broken engine mount.

        I never used the handbrake method. I either pulled away smoothly or spun the tires.

      • I’ve rarely used a handbrake on uphill starts, even in years of driving a stick in hilly Cincinnati.

        I taught my daughters that if they are on a hill and afraid of rolling back into the car behind to give it lots of gas and pop the clutch and they’ll be fine. They’ll look ridiculous, but they won’t roll back!

    • Kiefmo

      Didn’t Kia also put some kind of damper between the clutch pedal and actual clutch on some of their cars, so that even if you drop the clutch, it will slip enough to not stall? I seem to remember reading about it, but I can’t find evidence of it after a while 30s of googling.

      • Smaglik

        BMW does this. Clutch delay valve. Removal is a right of passage for any enthusiast’s new purchase.

  • Lokki

    The cigarette lighter in my 1971 Alfa Spider.

    For most cigarette lighters, you push the lighter knob down, heating the coil until the heat sensitive spring make the knob pop up, and then you pick up the heated coil by the knob and touch it to your cigarette, placed in your mouth, to light it.

    The Alfa Brico cigarette lighter has a cigarette-sized hole in the knob. You place a cigarette in that hole and push the knob down. The coil lights the cigarette, and the heat sensitive spring rings a little bell telling you the cigarette is lit. You then pick up the lighted cigarette and place it in your mouth.

    By the way, they almost always fail within six months.

    Worst of all Ferrari used the same cigarette lighter in their 1960’s/1970’s cars meaning that the prices have become absurd. Here’s a listing for one from a U.K. Ferrari site asking £300. ($388).

    • Sjalabais

      The Italian way of telling you not to smoke?

    • P161911

      Well, it does reduce the risk of dropping a hot lighter in your lap.
      Now I know the first thing that I’m checking for if I see an old Italian car in the junkyard.

      • No hot laps for my Italian sports car?!

    • Batshitbox

      The modern way…

  • Van_Sarockin

    Automatic transmissions

  • Moto Guzzi’s “high-cam” engine. This is what you end up with when you have a pushrod engine, want to market an OHC engine, but lack the develop funds for a clean-sheet design. It basically retains shortened/dummy versions of all the old OHV components, but squeezes a complete set of OHC components into the middle of the drivetrain. Just study this image carefully.

    • discontinuuity

      Wow, that looks like it has lots of inertia and flexing in those rocker shafts.

      Didn’t BMW have a similarly complex valvetrain on their boxer engines for a few years? IIRC it had dual cams, but they were still in the block, driving pushrods.

    • Fuhrman16

      GM did something similar with the LQ1 3.4 V6, which was a DOHC version of the 60* pushrod motor. It still had a timing chain from the crank to an intermediate shaft were the cam used to be for the pushrod version, then used a timing belt to drive the cams. It made for an unnecessarily large engine that was a royal pain to work on.

    • fede

      just wow… that certainly is unncessary complex…

  • Pete

    Sad enough we have a Audi here with that engine, and yes, the thermostate need to be replaced…..so there is my story.

  • Kieselguhr Kid

    2006 VW Jetta TDi. The windshield wipers don’t work if the hood is open. They won’t hit the hood if it’s open so there’s no reason to disable them in this situation but they are… One more thing to break.

  • Kiefmo

    I deliberately avoid buying cars that are known as a hassle to fix, so everything in this thread is exceptionally useful to me.

    Note to self: stay far, far away from VAG products newer than about 1985.

  • Jakub Kdzirski

    New Audis and BMW’s with timing chains (yes multiple) located in the back of the engine bay.

  • NCImportamation

    I’m going to vote for recent Mercedes audio systems. This may apply to other makes as well….but instead of a head unit you can replace when it fails, or update if you desire, my 2007 S550 has the amp and tuner in the trunk…a screen in the dash…..another box in the dash that incorporates the Nav and CD changer…..and another black box in the trunk that is the Sirius tuner. Finally, the only control is of course the rotary knob and 3 buttons on the center console. So there is no practical and economically viable way to update or replace any of this. When it works, it works fine, and the knob control has become second nature to me now….I can use it without looking at the screen. But when it recently quit making any sound, the screen just said “Device Unavailable”, leaving one to guess exactly what that meant. After a lot of research, I sent the tuner/amp in the trunk to Becker in NJ to be remanufactured. It worked, but cost $800. That could have gone a long way at Crutchfield.

    • cap’n fast

      yes , but think how impressive it is to know that your car has a Controller Area Network designed to couple all the little bits and pieces together into one awesome functional design which will truly impress one and all. and it will do so with only two-TWO- wires through out the whole car. even the lights are controlled by the system! amazing technical excellence!!! stupendous!!
      this is the result of cramming so much crap into the body of the car and not having enough interior volume available to federate the equipment into a coherent logical location. how much stuff can one stick behind the dashboard? for a thrill, look behind the front fenders in front of the front wheels and observe the expensive little black boxes installed within 5mm of the exterior sheetmetal. one bump of a shopping cart and there goes the brake and stability augmentation systems. and why does the electronics cabinet breather cap in the engine bay look like a window washer reservoir cap?? been done….

  • Kyle

    To replace an O2 sensor on a normal car is a simple job. On a VW Passat W8, it requires you pull the engine to gain access to the sensors.

  • anonymic

    The Ford 4.0L OHC V6. 3 timing chains to do what one should be able to do, or 4 timing chains if you have 4-wheel drive. Why? In a typical Ford effort to keep things cheap as dirt, they designed the engine to have identical cylinder heads on both banks. On an OHC engine. The right hand camshaft is driven from a jackshaft where the camshaft would be in an OHV engine, on the BACK of the engine. The jackshaft is driven like a camshaft would be, running the left hand bank from the front, and via a sprocket in the back of the engine to the left. If you have 4-wheel drive, they’ve added a balance shaft to alleviate NVH. These engines use hydraulic tensioners and chain guides whose quality would make a Fiat blush. They wear down and/or break off before the engine makes 60k miles, severely reducing power, torque, and gas mileage. To restore power and economy, pull the engine to replace the tensioners, guides, chains and sprockets. Quality engineering, parts and bean counting from Ford.

  • cap’n fast

    pretty much anything automotive that any level of government gets involved in. anything automotive designed by Mercedes Benz which has four pneumatic tires on it. any Lockheed product with more than one engine in it. Federal tax laws.
    I fear I need a drink now.

  • NapoleonSolo

    Has anyone mentioned the current “power unit” required in Formula One cars? Even Honda can’t build one.

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