Category Archives: Cars

An Aside: Grating Pulsation (The Grand Prix Rant)

My 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix GT(1) has been putting me through “braking Hell,” if you will.  I should make it clear I’m the opposite of savvy when it comes to car maintenance, so any solutions that might be provided will have to be in laymen’s terms to their very core (none of that “check the fuse box with a socket wrench on the sensor accessed by the wheel hub” jargon).  Anywho, on with the situation.

Why oh why didn’t I take a blue car?
I’ll make a few things clear about my Grand Prix first.  One, it had a previous owner.  I bought the car when it had about 78,000 miles on it (it’s currently at about 103,000).  It had a front bumper add-on with custom, 19-inch rims (thus different size tires than a stock Grand Prix), which I only afterwards realized impacted the accuracy of the speedometer, making it register the speed up to 8 MPH fast (so if it told me I was going 60 MPH, I was really going about 53 MPH).  Too bad the 19-year-old idiot I was didn’t take those custom touches as they should have been: Giant red flags.  Now, I bring up the bumper add-on since, long story short, I hit a curb that caused it to start cracking apart.  Ultimately, I decided to have it removed (at a Maaco shop) which left the car without a facia and a loose splash shield.

It was around that time the braking issue I’ve since been dealing with started.  Whenever I braked at about 20 MPH or less (according to the Grand Prix’s speedometer) the brakes would pulsate 85-90% of the time.  Now, it seems there are different “types” of pulsation that people have experienced with brakes on their cars.  I’d best describe mine as the equivalent to a videogame controller on maximum vibrate.  So whenever they pulsate, it essentially becomes borderline impossible to actually bring the car to a smooth and proper stop.  And given this pulsating issue ONLY occurs at very low speeds, I find it very absurd, to say the least.

Naturally, when this started I thought it was simply an issue with the brakes.  I took it to a Goodyear and had either the front pads or rotors replaced (can’t remember which, but I’m inclined to say it was the rotors) since, it being a FWD car, I figured most, if not all of the braking fell on the front wheels.  Well, that didn’t turn out to be the case, as the brakes continued to irritatingly pulsate.  All that Goodyear told me was that I’d have to get the rears replaced as well for the pulsating to stop.  Of course, they said replacing the fronts would eliminate MOST of the pulsating…that turned out to be a load of baloney.

They might as well be hieroglyphs. 

Fast-forward a few months and the splash shield coming off more than a couple times and, after finally having some money set aside, I get the splash shield and facia replaced (at a local shop called Wayne’s Auto Repair).  After getting that taken care of the most surprising thing happened: The brakes stopped pulsating!  I figured I was home free now, that maybe something from the old splash shield messed with the wheels.  I began to enjoy my car again.  That all changed after a month or so.  The pulsating brakes gradually returned with a vengeance and have continued to make me hate driving my car wherever I go.  Granted, I hardly drive at all since I walk to all my classes in college, but it makes those grocery store trips awful before I even enter the store.

But there have been a couple or so brief moments that the brakes stop pulsating otherwise.  Once in a blue moon (maybe a couple or so times per year, at most) I’ll randomly get two alerts in my car that always come up together: “Service ABS” and “Service Traction Control.”  When this first happened, I instinctively thought that must be why my brakes are pulsating.  But after these alerts came on I noticed that my car wouldn’t have trouble with pulsating brakes.  Sure, the brake pedal itself felt a tad more stiff in order to slow the car down, but that was ultimately negligible to me since I could finally brake efficiently.  The only way they’d pulsate after these two alerts came on was if I literally slammed on them at a low speed.  But for whatever reason, unlike every other alert I’ve gotten in my car (whether it’s low fuel, low washer fluid, low oil level, “Check Tire Pressure,” et cetera), the “Service ABS” and “Service Traction Control” alerts don’t come back after I turn the car off and back on.  They go away until they see fit to rarely and sporadically pop back up.  It’s funny, the moment my car tells me to service something, indicating that something needs to be addressed, it literally fixes the problem for me!  Some logic that is!

So naturally, I want to be rid of this pulsating brake fiasco.  I’ve tried looking into it online, and some have pointed to replacing the wheel speed sensors (whatever that means).  I tried calling the same Goodyear I got my brake (rotors?) replaced at and asked if they could replace wheel speed sensors, to which they said yes and asked me “which ones?”  Confused, I asked them couldn’t they look and tell me themselves but they said no, “you have to tell us.”  Yeah, that’s terrific logic; if your customer is asking you to check something out on their car since you’re, well, a car maintenance place, THEY need to tell YOU as if THEY KNOW what, specifically, is wrong?  Genius.

Every time I drive my car…

The only solutions I’ve really been offered at this point are replacing the brake pads AND rotors, both front and rear (and for all I know, I’ll have to pay for some other shenanigans too, like brake calipers, wheel alignment, wheel hub and/or some other terminology that means absolutely nothing to me).  I was also recommended to replace the ABS altogether at the dealership from where I got the car…they quoted me at over $1000 just to do that and said there was no guarantee it would absolutely fix my problem.  Yeah, I totally want to spend 1/7 of the cost of my car to have something done that might not (and probably won’t) eliminate my problem.  Thanks a lot, GM!

Really, the only option I see left is to somehow figure out how to disable the ABS in my car.  But since we’re talking a car made by a since-discontinued brand (again, thanks a ton, GM!), the fact my car isn’t exactly popular and I’m totally clueless when it comes to maintaining my own car, it kind of leaves me stuck with this annoying automotive contraption that has me succumb to its brain tumor-inducing malarkey.  I’d say this is an important lesson for when I get my next car, but let’s be honest, as a college student with an English degree who’s in-debt with barely any job experience, I don’t see a new, decent car happening any time soon.

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Posted by on April 21, 2012 in Automobiles, Cars, Rant


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