Monday, April 27, 2015

Designing cars to be more servicable.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to change the cabin air filter in my Evoque. I was getting an odd smell and with the fan on full, the HVAC system whistled so I figured a new air filter was the first place to start.
To do this job, on my car at least, you need to take out some plastic covers under the passenger side dash, and unbolt part of a metal frame in the fuse panel. So far so good. The problem is that the filter is 12 inches long and there's only 3 inches of clearance to the side of the HVAC unit to get it out, meaning it has to be twisted and bent considerably to remove the old filter. Putting the new one in was even more problematic because the twisting and folding had to be done at the same time as trying to feed the new filter round a 90 degree corner into the unit. Imagine trying to thread a needle with a sausage, whilst blind, around a 90 degree bend.
My car's not the only offender in this area either. I know on many Honda vehicles, to do the same cabin air filter change, you actually need to hacksaw a piece of plastic off the HVAC unit before you can even get to the filter cover.
This leads to the obvious question : why are these items not more servicable? Air filters need to be changed - that's a given. The engine air filter is normally easy to do (unless you're talking about the 80's-era Audi Quattro where you had to disassemble the fuel injection system just to access it). The cabin air filter ought to be just as easy to get to.
It's not just the air filter, obviously. The oil filter on my Honda Element was in such a place that when you took it off, the oil that drained out of the engine went all over the driveshaft and lower suspension arm. It was so bad that the "official" Honda kit to change the filter came with a drip ramp that you had to clip on to the suspension arm to redirect the flow.
There are cars where even something as simple as changing a headlight bulb can involve removing considerable amounts of bodywork, and others where something as basic as removing the sump requires the suspension to be dismantled and/or the engine to be dropped out of the car. It's not just cars either. The LT series of BMW touring motorbikes have so much bodywork and such a tightly packaged engine that the labour cost for changing spark plugs is something like 4 hours. Fifteen minutes to change the plugs and three and a half hours to disassemble and reassemble the bike.
In this day and age, shouldn't these parts be more accessible? The cynic will say that they're designed like this to encourage drivers to take their cars to dealers for service. Maybe so, but at the dealer, there's still a human being who's going to have to do the work, meaning that there's still someone who's going to curse and swear because of the inaccessibility of one or other component.
I'm not naive - I know how cars are built - I understand that the cabin air filter was put into the unit at the company who manufactured it while it was out in the open on a production line. The unit was then sent to Land Rover who simply bolted it into their car then built the dash around it. But come on - a little more forethought would make for a lot less frustration.


SoulHunter36 said...

I've heard Subaru are guilty of this as well with there spark/ glow plugs and fuel injectors. Granted it's more to do with the engine layout (boxer engines) rather than the packaging itself but I've heard stories of people having to remove bodywork just to gain access to them and have even heard some garages refuse to do any work related to the plugs and injectors.

Paul said...

Oil filters can be a pain to replace as well as messy. In our old Ford Laser (NZ) the clean up after changing the oil filter took longer than replacing the actual filter. The oil went everywhere.