Disposable Society

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I hate to admit it, but we truly live in a disposable society. I try the best I can to not participate, but I do on a daily basis. I guess I am somewhat of a hypocrite ragging about it here, but I hate it.

Yesterday, I had my day sort of planned out. Ride earlier in the day, to rest a bit for racing today, then make some phone calls, watch the Olympics, etc. I did some errands around noon, and when pulled back into my driveway, I got out of my van and smelled a distinct hot brake odor. Like really strong. So, I walk around the van and put my hand down by the rotors. The right rear is super hot. So, I get out the floorjack, and jack up the rear. I put the van in neutral, and try the rear wheels. The left turns like normal, the right is seized.

So, I get out the air compressor and take the wheel off. It is hotter than shit. I can’t stop myself and next thing I know I have the brake caliper off. I had to use a towel to hold the caliper, it was so hot.

So, I let the caliper cool down and check it out. It is a 1 ton van, so it has pretty beefy brakes. It has two pistons per caliper. One of the pistons doesn’t move when hydraulic pressure is applied. There is a rip in the seal boot, protecting the piston from the elements.

So I take the caliper off and hit it in with a wooden dowel. It loosens the piston, so I reattach it back into the van and have Kris pump the brakes to push the piston completely out. There is a seal, that has a rubber boot attached, that keeps the piston sealed. I pried the seal out and that exposes more of the piston. The piston has just a tad of surface rust, no pitting. I just take some steel wool and remove the rust. But the boot is toast.

I cleaned my hands and went inside to try to secure a seal/boot. Man, what a hassle. I look around the internet and am not really positive what I need. There are caliper rebuild kits, with seals, but all for different calipers. I call the Ford dealership and they say that they don’t sell individual seals. I talk the guy into looking at the schematics anyway. He says he is surprised, but he sees a rebuild kit with the seal. But, the kit is $40. A complete new caliper is just $50 at Advanced Auto Parts. I call a couple of auto parts store and they say that they quit selling brake rebuild kits because of liability reasons. Really, liability problems. Maybe they shouldn’t even sell calipers if the consumer might install them incorrectly? Maybe quit selling auto parts all together, since they might be liable for consumer misuse? I thought about ordering a couple different seal kits from Rock Auto, but finally just give in and order the caliper from Advanced, to be picked up.

The seal would have been $3.99 if I could have found the right one. But, it is nearly $60 for the new caliper.

If someone who doesn’t know hot brake smell, I’m sure they would just keep driving the car until something gave, either the rotor or pad. Then if they take the car to the Ford dealership, where the caliper was $120, I’d bet it cost another $250 for labor. So that would be about 100 times as much as the $4 seal. I paid 15 times the amount of the seal, plus a little brake fluid and brake cleaner.

It is such a waste. There was a core charge, so they are going to send in my old caliper and refurbish it and send it back out for use, so that is a little consolation. But the throw away movement our country has evolved into, bugs me, on nearly a daily basis. Forget the different of cost, the shipping of the caliper around the world to get rebuilt when I could have just put in a seal and used it for another decade is just plain wrong.

Most things can be fixed. Can you imagine throwing your bike away when you break a spoke? Or ding your wheel? I’ve garbage-picked a Honda lawn mower that its only issue was a broken pull cord. Who would throw away that? Just about anyone living in suburban America is who. Nearly all electronics that are out of warranty become trash. It is so wrong.

Anyway, that is the way it is going, so I guess I’ll try to keep swimming against the current as much as I can.

Old caliper and worn out seal.

Old caliper and worn out seal.

New/rebuilt caliper.

New/rebuilt caliper.

24 thoughts on “Disposable Society

  1. Rod

    Disposable hard goods in a society are a metaphor for disposable humans. Look at what is happening with GMO foods, chemtrails, vaccines, et al. You’re right dicky, we are doomed.

  2. Dog

    Reminds me of when my 1 y/o dishwasher went out. After tearing it out and inspecting, I found the electric motor had a faulty gasket that allowed dishwater to contaminate the internal moving parts. Repair guys would only speak of getting an entire new motor “assembly” (which has a lot more than the motor on it). I just wanted the new motor. Heck, I really wanted to just fix whatever part got shorted out INSIDE the motor.

    Then I realized, a repair guy fixing a dishwasher motor, when doing the whole assembly, only has about 25 minutes worth of work in front of him. And most of that is just turning a few screws. $250 – $300 for the work. All of these appliances are super-modulized now, to help reduce the repairman’s on-site costs. A modern dishwasher only has 3-4 parts that you can even possibly replace now. Not a bad business to be in. Seriously.

    I found a new assembly on eBay for $35. It took ME three hours to do it, but that was well worth $200 in savings.

    BTW, I love the math problem for comments.

  3. Euro

    You complain about throwing out a part of a brake caliper, but drive a huge full size van that probably gets 8 MPG? Where’s the true waste?

  4. Bill K

    90% of the riders here probably just buy a new wheel when they crash and screw up a rim, let alone lacing up a new rim themselves.

  5. channel_zero

    The core charge works. Your caliper gets rebuilt and reused. Small spare parts are only transported and intensively used not as eaches, but an easier to manage total rebuild kit to a few rebuilding locations.

    Think about it from the service person’s perspective. Misdiagnose a caliper repair replacing a single seal/o-ring and the service person losses lots of money in time and eats part of a rebuilt caliper. The smart tech replaces the whole caliper. Everyone is happier.

    There are other ways the country is very wasteful, (tires, carpet) but trying to save a few bucks trying to only replace a seal is not it.

  6. Steve Tilford Post author

    Euro–My van is a diesel and gets closer to 20 mpg. I also owe a Honda Insight that I use for city driving that gets over 50 mpg. Different vehicles for different purposes.

  7. Larry T.

    And your cycling equipment sponsor will tell you what to do with that dead STI shifter? Something about “contains no user serviceable parts”? Sadly, our official supplier is headed in the same direction it seems. The mechanic’s world is rapidly devolving into checking the faulty part with some sort of electronic meter, then throwing it away and replacing it with a new one. Mechanics become little more than parts changers when nothing gets fixed anymore. If control/alt/delete doesn’t work, throw it away and get a new one – increasingly a new one made in a place where the workers make 17 cents an hour. But of course this IS progress, they all say. Is it? I say, ask those folks in the Dark Ages about “progress”. I think that’s WHY they’re called the DARK ages. Change is not always progress or improvement.

  8. Jim

    I think you may be right about that. I ruined both the front and rear wheels in a crash last year. I couldn’t find replacement rims anywhere and almost gave up rebuilding the wheels. I ended up calling the wheel manufacturer directly and was able to get a LBS to setup an account to get the rims.

  9. The Cyclist

    It’s capitalism. Again. More profit in selling a whole caliper than just a small seal. Who cares if it’s killing the planet. Not the capitalist. I bet the capitalist thinks the capitalist can buy himsels his own planet with all money he makes on “calipers”. Might wanna check the bearing if it’s packed with grease and re-grease. Grease does not like excessive heat.

  10. Charles Dostale

    I rebuilt many Campy NR rear derailleurs – new bronze bushings in the parallelogram, replacing arms, replacing the top pivot. Replaced just the lever part of the entire brake lever assembly. I’ve replaced the pressed-in cups in Campy hubs. Nuovo Record pedal end caps, and pedal bearing cones. Any bike shop worth anything had a Campy parts cabinet. The parts weren’t cheap, but they were readily available. At Micheal’s we stocked and replaced Phil Wood sealed bearings for their hubs and BB’s.

    I bought Mavic derailleurs for because they were held together with small screws and cir-clips. Any part was replaceable, and Mavic had the parts in stock. I easily replaced the front derailleur body in just a few minutes when I cracked it over-tightening ( before bike mechanics used torque wrenches ).

    Back in the 1980’s we ragged on Shimano because you could never get small parts from them, only entire components. I am not sure that has changed now, and I’ll bet Campy doesn’t sell small parts anymore.

  11. Steve Tilford Post author

    Larry T-I’ve rebuilt a lot of STI shifters. I have a whole tray of parts shifters. I have replaced springs, etc. My friend Calvin Jones, from Park Tools, sent me a picture a couple years ago, of a shifter he rebuilt that had 3 cable heads floating around in it. It was amazing that the shifter functioned at all before that. I’m pretty sure that Calvin could repair virtually any part on a bicycle. I’ll try to find the photo, if I remember.

  12. Jeff

    I used to have an 87 4×4 full size blazer. It ran good, parts were cheap and you could replace just about anything on it. Front wheel bearing goes out? No problem, throw in some new timken’s for about $30 and you are good to go. Just a few hours of work and it’s easy enough for just about any shade tree mechanic to fix.

    On the new trucks, it’s a “unit bearing” and it’s over $300 for the part that is best left to the dealer to fix.

    All of these modern conveniences add to the disposal attitude. Don’t fix or tear down anything. Replace the part or product entirely and move on. Most consumers don’t want to fix what they have anyway. They want the newest and the best so most stuff gets built cheap and doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to.

    I should have never sold that blazer.

  13. Dog

    I have a 94 camry with 250K miles on it. It gets 30 MPG. I would call it a “sustainable” vehicle. When a Prius owner shows up with a 250K odometer reading, we can start to argue about sustainability.

  14. Bill Stevenson

    Steve, how user-serviceable are your DI2 components?
    My favorite household appliances are our 25 year old Kenmore Washer and Dryer. You can fix just about anything on them. Going to the appliance parts store is an exercise in time travel.

  15. H Luce

    Computers – especially Macs – are designed with obsolescence in mind. iPads and iPods use batteries that are both inaccessible and which wear out in 5 years or so. When the battery dies for the last time, that piece of hardware is junk. Right now, a lot of the apps in the App Store require iOS 6.0, which will not run on a 1st generation iPad – a deliberate move by Apple to sell more upgraded units. A way to get around this is to never upgrade the software – which is what I’ll do with mine – or to jailbreak it, which is definitely in the future. I’d like to see it last until October 2015, which will be 5 years – or longer. My MacMini won’t run any OS newer than OS 10.6.5 – another attempt at forced obsolescence. I have no plans to ever upgrade the OS – and it’s eminently repairable. Same case for software upgrades – no thanks. I’m satisfied with what I have. I’ve got a nine year old G4 laptop which runs just fine, as well as a G3 Lombard laptop which I’ve owned since October 2000 – it runs OS 8.6 – and again, no plans to upgrade if that were possible, which I doubt. It can read and write SD cards so no need for CD or DVD (or floppy) drives. That’s my Apple stuff. I doubt that any of it will last as long as my HP calculator, which I got in 1987, 27 years ago and which I still use – but I could be surprised. Actually, I’ve got my HP calculator from my undergrad days in 1976, which worked up until a year ago – there seems to be something wrong with the “9” key on the keyboard… That’s 37 years of service. I guess the moral of the story is that unfixable tools are unacceptably designed tools, to be in general avoided.

  16. Dog

    Think about the fact that no hydrocarbons or carbon-based gases were used in the support of making a new vehicle I never needed to buy. Unlike the brand-new Pious that people will buy when they start to fall out-of-love with their slightly aging hybrid.

    And most hybrids now being sold are of the lower-mileage varieties to help boost fuel efficiency for vehicles that formerly had gas mileage in the teens. So what, now they get twenty three? Twenty four? The entire point of even owning a hybrid vehicle has been completely lost on Americans.

    Durability + utilization OF that durability = sustainability.

  17. Dog

    I sadly had to give up on my Lombard 3 years ago after most websites that I used for banking, bill paying, (etc) needed browsers that only worked with OS’ that Lombard couldn’t run. It was sad to part with, as it worked well.

  18. Christian Davenport

    I used to have an ’83 Mercedes turbo diesel. It was a bit of a basket case when I bought it, but over time fixed things that were not working. Amazingly, you can still buy OEM factory parts from Mercedes, even for classic models. They are horribly expensive. But what else is amazing is you can buy small parts separate from the larger parts of which they are a component. Case in point being the small nylon levers that are part of the vacuum valve that controls the shift points on the transmission (just about everything on old MB’s run off vacuum). A cam that is turned by the throttle linkage presses on the levers, so the levers wear out over time, causing erratic shifting of the tranny. The levers on mine were worn down to nothing. Two little nylon levers for less than $20 and about 5 minutes to install, and perfect shifting. It made me wonder how many people had similar problems but went on to replace the entire valve or worse, like a transmission rebuild/replacement. I can’t speak for newer Benzes, but somehow I doubt you can buy the small parts for newer models.

  19. dave

    An additional problem is few people have the technical skill that you do Steve. I’ve never done a brake job on my car and would have no clue what was wrong or how to fix it if I did. Easy household appliance repairs I can do….like washer and dryer fixes….or vacuum repairs, but I wouldn’t know where to start if my brakes went South. I think it sucks just like you. Last week my coffee maker stopped working. I took the back housing off, but when I dids a earch for any repair parts, of course nothing showed up, but again for a $20 appliance, I didn’t expect to find any repair parts. I felt bad when I put it into the garbage.

  20. Dog

    Doing his own brakes and driving the thing until it falls apart is why Steve can spend a week in La Jolla riding his bike and sipping coffee at Pannikin.


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