December 18

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe



Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, Vancouver's best auto service experience, and we're talking cars. How you doing, Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So we have the sad story of a 2007 Dodge Caliber. What was going on with this vehicle?

Bernie: So this vehicle came to our shop. The owner called me, they were concerned because one of their wheels, their left rear wheel was sitting kind of on an angle. And I said, send me a picture. I got the picture looked at. I go, yeah, that doesn't look right. Bring it in. We can do an inspection on it and see what it is. 

The owner had been taking it to one shop, she lived quite a distance from us. Been taking it to this particular shop for a while. And you know, they had told her, she drove by and said, Hey, what's wrong with this? they said, Oh, that's normal on these cars. It's nothing to worry about. But I looked out, I go, no, there's something clearly wrong with this. And we'll get into pictures in a minute.

So the car was brought in and the comment by the owner was, yeah, it didn't feel very good when driving it. So when we had the time we brought into the shop, we authorized a steering suspension inspection which the owner was not very keen on the idea of paying for an inspection. So we can talk again about this. I thought it was a little unusual. I said, that's just our normal practice. We do a very thorough inspection and that's part of the process. 

So there are shops around, believe it or not, that still do free inspections. I don't know why, but I think they're just hoping to get work and money out of it, which is, to me, a very old model of the automotive business.

Mark: And you don't know what you're going to find, as is illustrated by this case. So what did you find when you were doing the inspections? 

Bernie: Well, it was horrendous. The rear subframe was rusted out so badly and the rear tires were worn right down to the cords on both sides.

Actually wasn't just the left wheel was on an angle, it was the right one as well. I can see it in the parking lot and the subframe was so badly rusted and it wasn't like this happened like last week. The vehicle had been in for a cooling system repair. At this particular shop a month before. And, you know, this just surprises me that something wasn't noticed, that it wasn't looked at.

Mark: So let's see some pictures. 

Bernie: Yeah. We'll still get some pictures. So there's the car. I mean, it looks pretty good, and this is the wheel moving my mouse point around that was sitting on an angle because I'm taking a picture here. I tried to get a picture that would convey the angle of it, and it didn't really look that bad, so I didn't bother. But I do have the picture the owner had sent me, which I will share right here. 

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe

Which you can kind of see, it's a small picture, unfortunately, very low res. But you can see here when you look at this tire, it's not sitting straight. Like it should be up and down like this, as opposed to being on an angle like that. 

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe

So from our inspection, this is part of our steering suspension inspection. Things get marked as red for crucial items. Amber for need to be done, but not immediately. And then there's greens for things that are good. And of course, this car had some good things, but note on the tires, the belts, their inner tie rod ends were loose, which weren't even related. The rear struts, rusted rear tire wear with the cords. And then we have notes up here and that breaks down into pictures. 

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe

Which we can take. So if you open up this part of the inspection, we itemize what we found and then here's the pictures. So you can kind of see from this picture here that severe rust. You can see the tire cords worn and I'll get, I'll put some larger pictures. 

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe

There's the rust. And I mean, I could have taken quite a few more photos, but you can see this is actually broken apart here. The metal is just gone. This is a subframe assembly on the rear. It bolts to the actual frame of the vehicle.

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe

And the tires. Right down to the cords. These tires, believe it or not, are six months old. If you look at the outside of the tire, they still look brand new, but the insides are completely gone. So there's our horror picture show. 

2007 Dodge Caliber, Rusted Rear Subframe

Mark: So I saw in the notes there that the other shop said everything was okay. 

Bernie: Yeah. Now they didn't do any inspection but they just said, yeah, that's normal. Brushed off the owner of the vehicle. 

Mark: So with this amount of rust, this vehicle is, I would say is probably, if not completely unsafe to drive, maybe very soon unsafe, like you're risking your life to be driving this vehicle.

Bernie: Yeah. At that moment it was. Actually having the owner driving it to us, it was a life risk situation. And two tires worn down to the cords. And those tires were actually replaced at that shop that said this is normal. So six months ago, this subframe didn't just rust over a period of a week. This something that's been going on for a long time and was probably deteriorated at that point. 

Mark: So how much of this do you think is the responsibility of the owner trying to save money and maybe saying like even just in how they reacted to you? I'm not trying to pick on the owner. We all want to save money. But this is an expensive piece of equipment in your life. Probably the second most expensive piece of stuff that you have. Is your vehicle and your house, I mean, house number one, vehicle number two, you need to invest money in it to keep it running and maintaining it. And so then if you're trying to save money on that, circumstances being whatever they are, then sometimes you risk this sort of treatment, maybe buy a shop, is this?

Bernie: You know, I think it depends on yeah, if you're trying to save money, I think that it can be problematic. I mean, like you said, we all want to save money. No one wants to spend more money than they have to. But I think it's, to me, it's about finding a good competent place to repair your car. How do you know it's competent?

I don't know. It's like, obviously there was a trust with this other place until there wasn't trust. You know, it's a bit of a hard issue, but I think, you know, to me, what I think is, you know, for the shop to say this is normal without saying, Hey, you know, we need to do an inspection on this vehicle instead of blowing the person away, you know, brushing them off. 

To me is really very unprofessional and, you know, we are the professionals. People count on us to give them the advice. Most people don't know anything about their cars, like almost nobody knows, you know, about cars. So that's why we go to doctors for professional advice. Is it always good? Not necessarily. Same with, is auto repair always good? Maybe not. But for the most part, I think finding a professional, getting professional advice is important.

Mark: What would have been involved in repairing this vehicle? 

Bernie: So just to get the rear fixed, I priced out, you know, sort of made an estimate. I looked at it right away. Okay. How's the rest of the body of this vehicle? Surprisingly, it wasn't as bad as a subframe. So I'm assuming that the metal the subframe is made out of, it was just an inferior metal right from the factory. This vehicle was not a Vancouver car. I think it was from Alberta originally, where these a lot more road salt.

There's bolts that hold the subframe up to the frame of the vehicle. And the bolt heads actually looked to be in pretty good shape and it didn't look like the rest of the frame of the body was damaged that badly. So it looked to me like it was something that could be unbolted, but until you actually try to undo the bolts, you don't really know. 

But I figured that the cheapest way to repair this would have been to get a good used subframe assembly from an auto wrecker, complete everything with the struts, all the control arms, the brakes, like everything, and then put that in, which is still quite an involved job. But if you were to buy individual bits and pieces, it would be outrageously expensive to do it.

I mean, nothing on that subframe is going to come apart because everything's either broken or rusted or corroded and there's a lot of pieces. So I figured at the end of the day, I mean, at least, you know, there's a few other things that needed to be done. It was several thousand dollars worth of work. And again, who knows until you actually take it apart, what you're getting into, it might be like, oh, this broke off the frame. And then at that point, the car's junk. 

Mark: What was your advice to the owner in the final analysis? 

Bernie: Well, you know, it's up to you, you know, what you want to do. This is what it would cost that I see, but you expect it could be higher. And, you know, the vehicle had like way over 200,000, maybe even close to 300,000 kilometres, which is a pretty good use. So, you know, at that point I think it's probably worth cutting the car loose, but I don't like to make those decisions for people. I mean, if you want to try to repair it, we can take a stab at it. But I think for the amount of money to be spent, you can probably find a much better used car somewhere else.

Mark: And the owner then took the car away. 

Bernie: Smartly towed it away, as I advised. Do not drive this car, this is like, highly dangerous. I mean, the next 10 feet down the road, the tires could blow or the one of those control arms, you know, like one of those subframe pieces will break off far worse. And, you know, the wheel could flop in or out or, you know, who knows, not a good scenario. Even at five miles an hour would be scary, but, you know, if you're going like 30 or faster, it'd be like frightening. 

Mark: Yeah. Well, life threatening, like you said. 

Bernie: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So sad story.

Mark: In the end, an owner who went away safely, which is the most important thing of all. Yeah. And if you're looking for an auto repair that you can trust, who's going to have those hard conversations, but honest conversations with you that you need to have with vehicles. The guys to see in Vancouver are Pawlik Automotive. 

You can book on their website at Or you can call them (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. They'll get ready for you. They'll be available for you when you arrive and they'll make sure that they look after your car and thoroughly check it and repair it the right way. Even if it's hard, even if they have to have a hard conversation with you, they'll tell you the truth. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Thanks for watching and listening. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thank you for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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