Home » ‘The Worst Set Of Brakes I Have Seen In My Career’ — A Mobile Mechanic Shares Why He Intentionally Disabled A Customer’s Car

‘The Worst Set Of Brakes I Have Seen In My Career’ — A Mobile Mechanic Shares Why He Intentionally Disabled A Customer’s Car

Badbrakes Top

It’s no secret that people can be quite bad at taking care of cars, and that mechanics often see some crazy things in the field (see “Just Rolled Into The Shop” on Reddit). Technicians see cars pull into garages with worn-thin brake discs, brake pads rubbed down to the backing plates, and the occasional stuck caliper. Vehicle maintenance can be absurdly expensive and times are tough for a lot of people right now, so some drivers neglect their cars’ needs to keep costs down — even when those needs involve crucial systems like brakes, which could put the driver and others on the road at risk.

One especially egregious example of heavily-“deferred” maintenance comes to us via Willie D. Jenkins, a mobile mechanic out of Eugene, Oregon. He recently had a customer reach out needing significant brake work on their 2007 Honda Civic; upon seeing the vehicle’s mechanical condition, Jenkins took an extreme step to keep the vehicle from being driven further and potentially endangering kids inside or the general public.

Jenkins has seen a lot in his line of work. He started his mobile mechanic business in March 2020, as the world shut down amid the worst of COVID, but when people still needed their cars serviced. Jenkins told us over Twitter messenger that he offers extremely low rates to a population of people who are often underserved and overcharged by shops in the area. His goal, he said, is to “make car care affordable to everyone,” and in addition to his low rates, he says he does a lot of pro bono work. “Elderly folks, college kids, poor people, that’s my clientele,” he told The Autopian. Here you can see his Craigslist post offering $45 per hour service; the listing features numerous photos of apparently-satisfied clients:

Screen Shot 2022 12 13 At 2.49.45 Pm

Back to the 2007 Civic. Given its age, it’s reasonable to expect something like an internal brake hose failure or, perhaps, even a seized caliper. However, the exact magnitude of “significant” when we mentioned “significant brake work” earlier in this article is quite a sight to behold. When Jenkins got down to see the vehicle, he realized that at least one brake disc wasn’t there anymore.

Take a look:

Bad Brakes Afar

See that tiny rusty lip on the hub? That’s all that remains of this driver’s side rear brake disc. The black circle you see in the background is the backing plate. As for all the orange stuff on the wheel, those are, per Jenkins, iron filings from the brake rotor wearing down to nothing.

Here’s a closer look at the absolute carnage that Jenkins saw when he rolled up to inspect this 15-year-old Honda:

Bad Brakes Close Up

As Jenkins explained over the phone, “The rotor went away four months ago and [the customer] continued to drive it, and he was losing fluid and he continued to drive it, and he lost brakes altogether and he continued to drive it.” In fact, the driver of the Honda mentioned to Jenkins over the phone that he picked out pieces of disc to make the brakes stop making noise, and Jenkins genuinely didn’t believe that it was pieces of disc rather than shims or some other part.

Oh, and the other rotors aren’t in stellar shape, either. Jenkins said over Twitter messenger: “I forgot which one of the front ones is missing pieces also…every corner is scary in its own way.” Here a photo of a different brake:

Less Bad Discs But Still Bad Brakes

Perhaps most surprising is that the customer, per Jenkins, intended to take his children to school in the vehicle the very next day. While most brick-and-mortar shops likely would have asked the customer to sign a release of liability, Jenkins decided to take matters into his own hands and temporarily remove the ignition and fuel pump relays, causing a no-start condition (but not harming the vehicle at all).

It’s a dangerous thing to do ,as disabling a vehicle isn’t the most legal thing in the world, but Jenkins considered it the morally correct thing to do to keep the children—and anyone else around the car—safe. “It’s not going to start when he tries,” reads Jenkins’ tweet above.

It’s a tough situation and one we can’t endorse ourselves, obviously. Not to say this is what happened here, but we all know people who have deferred essential but expensive maintenance because they’ve fallen on hard times, yet still have to get to work on time and make sure the children get to school. Our car-centric society puts this burden on people, and it’s not an easy one to navigate when life throws some hard punches your way. Still, there is no denying that, based on hte photos we see here, this car appears utterly unsafe — a risk to its driver and the people in it.

I’d love to know what you, dear Autopian readers, would do if you ended up in this situation.

But there’s a happy ending here: the driver ultimately listened, made no attempt to drive the car, and agreed to repairs. Jenkins agreed to do the job as cheaply as he could; he broke down the parts he planned to use, sourcing them from RockAuto:

Jenkins says he started his mobile repair business to help people who can’t afford repairs, and that it’s quite likely that the owner of this vehicle wasn’t able to afford repairs from a traditional shop when the brakes started making noise. However, you’d think the driver had to notice the noise, lack of stopping power, or potential sparks at some point, which means that driving this around was a willful act. As Jenkins put it, “It don’t take a rocket scientist to say ‘Hey, that don’t sound right.’” It’s also far from the standard scenario that Jenkins is used to seeing:

Usually it works like this: The customer will get a brake noise or something, he’ll know it’s time for brakes ‘cause Les Schwab, our local tire place, will tell him, “Hey, it’s time for brakes.” And Les Schwab will write him a quote on that. Les Schwab does good work, but you’re looking at hundreds of dollars to get the complete brake job. They probably would’ve said $500 a corner on it by the time they were done. Normally that scares people to death, so they know they’ve got a problem, they drive home. Then I get the phone call.

Due in part to the customer’s deferral of maintenance, that Honda will now require new calipers, new pads, new discs — pretty much a new brake system at every wheel. It’s a tough lesson for the owner, who is apparently going trough some financial stresses, and while that’s sad, the good news is that — should everything go through — there will be one less deathtrap on the roads of Oregon.

Photos courtesy of Willie D. Jenkins

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63 Responses

  1. Had a friend’s drive until the outside half of the rotor was gone. It was just the fins. He lost brakes when the caliper lost all the fluid. Worst I’ve seen

  2. Jenkins was basically the state trooper in Trains, Planes and Automobiles:

    “I can’t let you go ahead in this vehicle… No, it’s not fit for the road. The vehicle will be impounded until such time as it can be made safe for travel on state highways.”

  3. I saw that Civic shitshow on Twitter. Willie is an interesting follow there.

    Glad he had the cajones to do what he did, but most shops/techs could not get away with it. It’s a legally fine line of holding someone’s vehicle hostage.

    When I lived in VA, I thought their system of state-mandated yearly safety inspections was an overreach and a hassle, but now that I live in a state (TN) with no safety inspection, I have some “holy crap, I can’t believe they are driving that” moments, I can see the need for it.

    1. Cajones means drawers in Spanish, cojones would be more helpful. Yeah, Willie is a good dude, we follow each other on Twitter. He has some interesting posts with what he finds on there. Yeah, the guy had a deathwish, hopefully the customer doesn’t catch wind of what happened.

  4. Reminds me of the ‘Comeback Jeep.’

    1999 Cherokee (XJ) Sport. 4.0, NP242, amazingly rust-free despite our roads being more salt than asphalt for several years. The owner loved it and really took care of it. Oil changes on time, undercoated every year, the works. And this Jeep had been in and out of the shop 5 or 6 times in the past 5 months. Kept coming back with the same two problems – O2 and a bad injector.

    The ‘professionals’ who were electrical idiots had sold this customer 4 O2 sensors, 3 fuel injectors, and 3 $1,750 PCM jobs. That’s each.

    Annoyed and pissed off that they had done this to a customer, I pretty much stole the ticket. Said “nope, put this in my bay, now. And give me the files.” Spent 40 minutes reading back through it, and found a body shop reference. Went over to the body shop, said “hey, pull up this file. I need to see the photos.” Customer had a collision, not that you would have ever had any idea from even paint metering the car. Our body shop was amazing.
    Soon as they pulled the photos and estimate up, I wanted to scream. Driver side fender had been completely crushed inward, driver side headlight gone and grill munched, hood punched down in front, airbag replacement, and no engine repairs. They only replaced a bent wheel after the road test.

    Five minutes later, I’m back in my bay with the Fluke probing pins, already knowing what I’m going to find. If you are unfamiliar with the XJ Cherokee, allow me to explain. The primary engine harness for the XJ Cherokee basically runs inside of the driver’s side fender. The whole thing. PCM sits basically directly behind the driver’s headlight. And again: body damage in the collision was centered on driver’s side fender and driver’s headlight area.
    Codes I had were injector 4 circuit fault, O2 heater circuit fault. Same codes as everyone had dicked with before. I already know injector 4’s not faulty because they just charged the customer $600 to do that last time.
    Sure as shit, injector 4 is shorted to ground. At the connector. Check the O2 circuit, it all looks fine till I wiggle. Then the 12 volt shorts to sense. Yeah, this is going great already. Consult the FSM, test the O2 ground resistance, and sure as shit that’s out of spec too. Check injector 2 impedance, out of spec low. Alternator to PCM, intermittent continuity. Engine harness had internal pinch damage under the six layers of gaff tape.

    These assholes sold the customer somewhere north of $6000 in completely unnecessary parts, because they couldn’t be assed to do basic electrical diag. Diag which told me in less than 15 minutes that the insurance claim had missed a damaged engine wiring harness. They wasted a ton of time and parts on something the customer never should have been billed a penny above their deductible for. That the body shop never would have caught but the techs would have if they’d followed FSM procedure at all.
    I was so pissed off that the writers had let this shit go on for months that I stormed over to body, made them get the adjuster on the phone, and wouldn’t let them go until they wrote it up as a complete engine harness under the original collision claim so that it was covered by the already paid deductible, and got them to fully approve it. Then dropped the preapproved ~$1200 in parts (harness was $900 itself) and 8.9 hours of labor on the writer’s heads.

    That shit still makes me livid to this day.
    And that Jeep never came back again for anything other than oil changes and brakes.

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