May 23, 2023


Question: This morning I went to my car to find that it had grown what appeared

Question: This morning I went to my car to find that it had grown what appeared to be "hair" from the tailpipe. It was about 10 inches long and gray, with brown highlights. I had to get to class for a test, so I gave my car a haircut with my Swiss army knife. I tried to pull the rest out of the tailpipe, but it wouldn't budge. I am continuing to drive my car. What came out of the back end of my car? Samantha

Ray: Well, Samantha, the first thing I’d do is contact Sy Sperling at the Hair Club for Men to see about becoming a supplier. If this continues, you could pay off your student loans, and then some.

Tom: We’ve actually seen this before, Samantha. It's muffler hair. Some cars (we’ve seen it on Hondas) use a fibrous insulating material as a sound deadener in their mufflers. When the muffler starts to deteriorate, the stuff starts to come off, and it heads out through the tailpipe. And you’re right — it looks and feels just like hair. I find it quite disgusting and creepy, actually.

Ray: What it's made of, I don't know. But now that you mention it, I have seen a large fleet of Accords in the Hair Club for Men parking lot.

Tom: So, what to do? In the short run, I’d apply some conditioner. That’ll make it more manageable.

Ray: Actually, you can keep driving the car, but this means that your muffler is on the way out. And sooner rather than later, the car is going to get real loud. So if you’ve got the money, you might as well replace the muffler now, Samantha.

Q: My 1995 Honda Civic has been diagnosed with a bad oxygen sensor. Although I am not mechanically inclined and have almost no tools to speak of, I’ve been entertaining the idea of replacing the little sucker myself. Short of providing entertainment for my neighbors, is it a reasonable thing to do? Or should I sell biscotti at the local farmer's market instead until I raise the $211 it would cost to have it done by a pro? Leonardo

Tom: Well, if you had to pick a job to start with, this would be a pretty good one, Leonardo. It's really fairly easy, on this car.

Ray: The oxygen sensor is right up front, just behind the radiator. You’ll find the sensor threaded into the exhaust manifold, and there will be one wire coming out of it. Unplug the wire, and then — using a 7/8ths wrench — loosen up the sensor, unscrew it and remove it.

Tom: Then, in the opposite order, put the new one in and reattach the wire. If your check-engine light is on because of your bad oxygen sensor, it’ll reset itself and go out after a while. That's all there is to it, Leo.

Ray: However, if any of the following situations occur, you should fall back to plan B ("B" for "biscotti sales"): (1) You are unable to open the hood. (2) You are unable to find or identify the oxygen sensor. (3) You are unable to remove the wire. (4) You are unable to loosen the sensor. (5) You strip the sensor because you didn't use a 7/8ths wrench, like we told you to. (6) The wrench slips and you bust a hole in the radiator while trying to loosen the nut.

Tom: But nothing ventured, nothing gained — right, Leonardo? We’ll be pulling for you, buddy.

Q: I have a 2000 VW Golf 1.8T, which I have enjoyed owning — except when I have taken it to the shop for brake pads. When I brought it in at 40,000 miles, the dealer told me that I needed not only brake pads, but also rotors. He informed me that Volkswagen makes thin rotors that are not able to be resurfaced. He said they are designed to wear out with the pads. Is this true? And why would they intentionally make thin brake rotors that have to be replaced every time you change the pads? Pax

Tom: Surprisingly, it's to keep customers from complaining, Pax!

Ray: It's all about noise. In the old days, brake pads were made of asbestos. Asbestos was a perfect material for brake pads (except for that little issue of lung disease). It was durable, it performed well at high temperatures and it was relatively soft, so it didn't squeal when it made contact with the hard steel rotors.

Tom: And with the softer asbestos pads, the pads would wear out over time (as they were designed to) but leave the rotors relatively unscathed.

Ray: Because of the dangers of asbestos, we now use noisy metallic brake pads.

Tom: So over time, manufacturers, including VW, have softened up the rotors to get rid of the squealing. VW is not alone in this. All manufacturers have done it.

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