Day 85 | $35,083 paid | $55,634 till freedom

I once again find myself eating my words on this blog. After selling off the Murano and bike, I was feeling pretty darn good about things and assumed that the debt paydown plan could go on cruise control. But, to quote myself from last night’s post when I cautioned myself that I wasn’t quite out of the (student debt) woods yet: “Taking a broader view, anything can happen–I certainly know that, as life has been known to throw a curve ball at me from time to time.”

Curve ball thrown.

I was driving to the grocery store last night and the clutch pedal started feeling a little sticky/notchy during the first couple of inches of travel whenever I released it from the floor to engage a gear. The stickiness was a far cry from the silky smooth operation I experienced I replaced the clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder a week ago for $682.

I didn’t think much of it, assuming that the cylinders had just gone through a break-in period, probably needed slight adjustments, and that the shop had just forgotten to tell me to come back in a week. So I swung by the shop the next day, today, on my way to work, fully expecting a quick and free visit.


I explained the symptoms to Rick, the service writer, and his face fell. He told me it was probably an issue with worn springs on the clutch pressure plate. I told him that that sounded expensive, and he confirmed that indeed it was–$1,600 to replace the clutch kit. He disappeared with my car, and when he reappeared twenty minutes later, he confirmed his suspicion: it was a spring issue. He explained that the springs push back against the clutch and the clutch pedal to keep the clutch mated with the flywheel. When the springs lose their tension, the pedal doesn’t operate as smoothly since there’s no longer a steady, consistent pressure pushing back on it. Instead, there’s a sensation of stickiness. The only way to repair it is to replace the entire clutch kit.

I was almost too shocked for words. Was this a nightmare?

I didn’t really have any options, so I authorized the job and Rick said he’d order the parts and that I should come in at 7:30 the next morning for the repair. Still in a daze, I got in my car and went to work, my head spinning.

It’s worth mentioning here that I.vealways trusted this shop, and that’s why my gut reaction was to authorize the job. They have outstanding Yelp reviews, they’re well known in the local S2000 community as they specialize in these cars, and they’ve always been the sole garage for both of my S2000s. They’re also very close to my house and work, so there’s a convenience factor, too. So I wanted to believe Rick, but at the same time, I didn’t want to.

I got back to work and thought about what Rick had told me. His of the notchiness simply wasn’t making sense in my head. I called him and had him explain the problem to me again–very, very slowly. After going back and forth on the phone with him for about ten minutes, I was finally began to distill from him what he thought was going on with my clutch. It still required a YouTube video about how clutches work to see what in the world he was talking about.

My description of the problem above is clear only because I’m typing it up now, after getting further educated on how clutches work.

After hearing his explanation and watching the video, I refused to believe that replacing the clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder were coincidental to needing a new $1,600 clutch due to worn-out springs. In short, I wasn’t buying it. So I Googled the symptoms I was experiencing and a bunch of stuff came back. After perusing the results for awhile, I landed on a super-simple repair. Was it really as simple as polishing and lubricating the slave cylinder rod, a one-hour, $10 repair? I sent off an email to Rick which led to a couple of follow-ups. What follows is the actual email exchange with the names edited.  (BTW, “broken finger” is mechanic-speak for “worn out spring.” Every day is a school day.)

 Hi Rick,

I’m sure it’s a broken finger on the clutch, but FWIW, wanted to pass this along to see if it’s something y’all could please check out before replacing the clutch.

I’m hoping that the brand new clutch master and slave cylinders are placing additional stress on the cylinder rod and that’s what’s causing the notchiness.


Thank you,


From: Rick
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2011 12:01 PM
Subject: Re: Notchy Clutch Pedal

I thinks its definitely worth a look since the slave cylinder has to come out to get to the clutch parts anyway. If we pull it out and the end of the rod and the clutch fork seem to be worn, we can lube it up and put it back together and try it. I don’t know if it is a very likely scenario since the new slave cylinder also came with a new rod, but hey if that’s the case then that part is under warranty. Either way we will find out.

From: NMHD
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2011 12:32 PM
To: Rick
Subject:RE: Notchy Clutch Pedal

Thanks a lot, Rick.

The post also mentioned lubing some other parts, so I’ll just make a list.

  • cylinder rod
  • release fork/fork pivot inside the transmission
  • bearing guide shaft

Is there a way to confirm after the fact that the finger really was broken on the old clutch, in case lubing up these parts doesn’t do the trick and we have to replace the clutch?

I’ve sold off my motorcycle and Murano to pay off some of my student loans (still have a ways to go), and between this and the clutch master cylinder and slave cylinders I just replaced, it sure would be nice to catch a break 🙂

All that being said, if it is definitely a problem with the clutch, let’s replace it. I don’t want to put off any work that has to be done.

Thanks for your time!


From: Rick
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2011 12:45 PM
Subject: Re: Notchy Clutch Pedal

There won’t be any way to “see” a problem with the pressure plate until it’s out. Even then you can’t always tell for sure. Sometimes you can “read” the clutch disc and tell if there was a problem. If we see any signs of wear on that slave cylinder rod or clutch fork end I think we should adjust and lube as necessary before replacing any mechanical clutch parts. It would be worthwhile to save the 7 hours of labor if we can.


This exchange bothered me for two reasons.
  1. The customer shouldn’t have to tell the shop to step up their diagnostics game. The lubrication of these parts should have been checked in the morning when I brought the car in, or Rick should have charged me for a $75 diagnostic session if it’s not an easy check. I’ll gladly pay a $75 diagnostic fee if it means I can save $1,500 net. Instead, Rick spent 20 minutes with the car and assumed the worst.
  2. I was alarmed at the part where Rick said it might be impossible to see if it was truly a spring issue post-facto.  
I called up a local Honda dealership for a second opinion. The foreman told me that Honda clutches typically last 150k-200k miles before needing a new clutch, and that it would be impossible to tell if it were a spring issue by the feel of the pedal. My clutch was replaced at 25k under a recall according to the historical maintenance documents I have. The S2000 is at 63k miles, so there are fewer than 40k miles on the current clutch.
It looks like I have no choice but to take my car to the dealership for a second opinion instead of the indie for the repair.
Believe it or not, the decision to call the dealership for a second opinion was not an easy one to make. Obviously, I’m glad I made the call after I heard what the foreman had to say, but actually deciding to make the call wasn’t easy. I typically never get second opinions unless I’m having a personal problem and seeking counsel/mentorship. As I said earlier, the indie has a ton of positive reviews online, they’re recommended int the local S200o community, they’ve done all the work on both of my S2000s, and the shop is close to my house and work. I believe in the best of humanity, and I wanted to assume that I could trust this shop.  But at the end of the day, it’s too easy to imagine a scenario where the shop polishes and lubes up the cylinder rod which takes care of the problem, but replaces the clutch kit anyway and charges me $1,600. If this were a $200 job, I’d wave my hand and be done with it, but there is way too much money on the line here.
Positive Job Feedback
My boss told me during our weekly meeting today that he is very happy with my performance. He likes the fact that I’ve jumped right in and taken ownership of my work, and that I’ve not only mastered the base expectations, but I’m beginning to go above and beyond them. With bonus decisions right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better. I worked another 11 hours today, straight through lunch, but it looks like it’s beginning to pay off.

Got another Landscaping Job
Michael and I landed Saturday’s quote! The customer is a colleague from work who heard about my side biz. Profit is around $250 for four hours of work, so split two ways, we’re looking at $125/person, or about $31/hour. I’ll take it.

Unfortunately, the work is in the backyard, so it’ll be difficult to get business from neighbors walking by.

I guess this potential $1,600 repair is just what I needed to get excited about landscaping again.

I just found out that John is not having his family stay here for Thanksgiving, and Sarah is heading home for the holidays. So what was once four adults and two kids in this house has turned into one adult–me. I’ll be roommate-free on Wednesday night through Saturday morning! I’m pumped. Great news. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live alone.

And no, I never told John that he has to pay me to have his family stay over. They just decided on their own to stay at their friend’s place 45 minutes north of here.


Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “Un-Freaking-Believable

  1. Elliot

    I can relate to you having unexpected car expenses. Mine always seem to come up at the worst times. My transmission is warrantied till 10yr/120k miles and I have a 7yr/100k warranty on most major components. Just in case something major fails and I really don’t want to pay anything more than the deductible for it.

    I recently had work done for a technical service bulletin for $50 that would’ve cost me $450 parts and labor. I’m sure one of my wheel hubs will go between now and 2015, at the expense of another few hundred dollars.

    It definitely pays to get a second opinion. I have relied on online forums and price comparison sites to make sure I’m not overpaying for a product or service. Local shop wanted me to pay 354 for new rotors + pads. Although the work would be covered for a year, I was able to order both for 112 after rebate and had a local guy install for $60. So almost a 50% savings by leveraging one’s network.

    My car is making a rattling noise at startup (heat shield) when it’s cold and I may mention about it during my next visit… It’s annoying when certain behaviors can be easily reproduced and others the dealership will charge you $99 to diagnose it if nothing wrong is found. I think the next car I buy will be slightly used so I don’t burned on depreciation again, but new enough as to still be eligible for an extended warranty. Ideally that will be 2015 or later.

    Glad to hear the positive job feedback and additional landscaping jobs that are popping up. Keep them coming! 🙂

  2. Interesting post as always 🙂 One quick comment RE the indie mechanic:

    My experience with mechanics has been that, as with every other profession, they often make mistakes when they are under pressure. I wouldn’t necessarily read in that they are trying to pull a fast one, or trying to charge you for a repair that is not needed. I think it’s more likely that they made a legitimate mistake, either through someone not being 100% on the ball, or being under pressure.

    I’m not sure what it’s like in the US, but in South Africa there is basically no such thing as a perfect mechanic. I’ve settled on one that is honest, works a lot on my type of car (SAAB 9-3), and generally skilled. I trust them, but I always verify, and I often get a second opinion, do my own research, or make some calls. Because they know I do this (and because I always pay cash when I collect!), I’m probably not their favourite customer, but I know that they put in extra effort to look after me.

    Hope it turns out just to be the quick fix!

  3. Sarah L

    Man, what a tough break! Hang in there. Anxious to find out what is actually wrong with the car.

  4. I do a lot of my own work on my cars, it saves me a ton of money but costs me a lot of time. Doing simple maintenance is easy, you just need a good manual to show where stuff is. Small repairs, like replacing an alternator, is something you can do with the right tools and the manual. As for major repairs, like a clutch, I think you did the right thing asking for a second opinion. Even if it turns out to really need to be replaced, at least you can feel better knowing you verified.

  5. There was no sign of leakage from the old cylinder, but my vehicle was struggling from the well-known notchy and noisy clutch pedal problems. Apparently the 993 slave cylinder does not have an extended service life. The slave cylinder is mounted on top of the transmission, so entry is awkward and most of the work has to become done by touch with one hand.

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