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:
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:
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:
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:
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).
Officially the worst condition set of brakes I have seen in my professional career. Customer insisted on driving his kids to school tomorrow. It's not going to start when he tries????????. pic.twitter.com/KV5xHobTY4
— Willie D Jenkins (@WillieDJenkins1) December 5, 2022
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:
As cheap as I can do it. Core charges and shipping are similar. pic.twitter.com/BzxiEFpb0F
— Willie D Jenkins (@WillieDJenkins1) December 5, 2022
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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I am honored to have this right up featured here, and thankful to everyone for all the support! Use this a reminder that “They are out there”, and make sure your vehicle is not “one of them”. The better your brakes, tires, suspension components, lights, and wipers are, the better able you are to react and protect yourself and those you love from danger-mobiles. I always tell my customers “The sooner you take care of this, the less expensive it will be”. A lot of money, and danger, could have been spared here. Brakes pads are critical, inexpensive, and quick and easy to change. If your brakes work or sound bad, or your just not sure, ask around your social network. Somebody knows somebody or somewhere. If your broke (believe me I get it) you can use payment services like ZIP to slice the price of already inexpensive parts into payments. Many cars, a person with average mental and physical ability can, in fact, change a set of brake pads themselves with the help of YouTube or a book. With normal tools, and an afternoon, one can prevent a serious safety hazard, as well as feel a bunch of self pride. I also offer micro credit towards labor on a limited basis, and if need is severe enough, I may even crowd fund you some bargain basement car parts. In closing, we all share the same road, and must depend on each other. Everyone’s life is literally at stake. Be safe out there!
Thanks for what you do. You are a good person.
Deferred maintenance is so dangerous, but I understand how it happens. To many people, cars are appliances that are driven until they just don’t work. They don’t maintain their refrigerator, so why maintain the car? This supports the need for basic automotive education and annual safety inspections.
One of my kids has zero interest in anything automotive (or, anything mechanical for that matter). But, I made sure she knows what to pay attention to, and what to maintain. My point to her was that having even basic automotive knowledge will ensure that she is safe, and not taken advantage of when she goes to a shop.
At least if the car would have had AWD, the customer would have been perfectly safe. /S
These silly vehicular things we love are no doubt the bane of other people’s monetary existence.
In the past year or so, I kept my ex-roommate’s car away from expensive shop inspections and repairs by 1.) getting a free autozone CEL code reading; 2.) replacing the coolant temp sensor (which did require my purchasing of a couple new tools, but who doesn’t like adding tools to their armory?!); and 3.) replacing the rear windshield wiper motor when she accidentally backed up into an obstruction when the hatch was open.
Beyond the actual cost of having a shop do these repairs, her work schedule was absurd, so being able to handle these things in the evenings or on one of her rare days off is just another way in which she wasn’t sacrificing hours she would have spent getting paid on having to coordinate all these different incidents with a shop.
Props to Willie for going that extra mile for this customer!
What I find amazing is that the rotor is gone but the brake pads are still there. I would have thought the pads would wear through before the rotors would. Got to wonder if he didn’t have some extremely cheap off-shore rotors installed.
These brakes look seriously scary and I have no idea how or why someone would drive around in a car with no functioning brakes.
I will admit to misjudging brake wear but that was frame of reference. I was actually replacing the pads and rotors on my car, looked at the 1/4″ of friction material remaining and said “plenty of meat there” because I was accustomed to bicycle disc brakes where a new pad has about 2mm of friction material. Then I took the new pads out of the box and saw how thick they were. In my defense I hadn’t worked on a car’s brakes in about 20 years so I expected brake calipers to be the size of kumquats and brake pads thinner than oreos.
45 per hour is stupid cheap, local mobile guys are 125 or 150 per hr the same as shops- but they seem to have less demand- maybe the minus 29 weather has something to do with that
$45 an hour was cheap in 1998
I fully agree the vehicle needed to be disabled here. I don’t see why it was necessary to use such a confrontational method though.
Did the owner initially refuse the repairs?
Only if there was a outright refusal would I use this method.
In any case, I would explain to the owner that as a licensed tech I would be liable if I were to allow the vehicle to be driven, and furthermore, I have a genuine concern for theirs and their children’s safety.
I would quote the job, and if agreed, I would put one axle on stands and tear down the brakes. That would be my first method of choice for disabling the vehicle.
Because ‘Seriously, don’t drive this car, it’s not safe.’ to most people means ‘Meh, I’ve been driving it like this for the past 6 months. One more trip to school and back won’t hurt anything.’
I haven’t fully closed my mouth since kenning the pics (it took more than one look). Just mind boggling.
Big surprise about Eugene Oregon. I thought they were kind hearted people. Pennsylvania has its faults but if a kid lives more than 3 blocks away a ride will be provided free.
This is great example of why state-mandated safety inspections are worthwhile.
I grumble about having to go have it done once a year, sure, but when I think of how much they do to incentivize negligent/clueless but otherwise good people to keep their car in roadworthy and safe condition, I’m reminded that they’re a good idea from a broad societal cost-benefit pov. Nearly all of the items checked directly relate to how cars interact (or critically, like in this case, don’t) with others on the road.
And on more than one occasion, they’ve caught something on my rides that was close to failure that I might not otherwise have noticed until it actually did. Last time around it was a a tie rod on my Mustang, and I really don’t check those very often.
It is completely astonishing that you can drive a ~4000 LB thing around without any kind of safety inspection. Make required by law, and covered under insurance the same way as preventative healthcare is covered.
You would be surprised at the amount of shitboxes that come through a Walmart Auto Care Center on a daily basis; but we always get flak for being the “Swift of the Auto Repair Industry” when in reality, we are under MUCH tighter scrutiny than what you would find at other repair chain and the mom&pop shops.
I dealt with Walmart once. They pulled the classic scam of the cabin air filter clogged with leaves and shop dirt (realized after the filter he showed me was for a different vehicle). They quoted me $30 for a replacement, so I said why not.
Price became $60 when I went to pick up the car.
“when in reality, we are under MUCH tighter scrutiny than what you would find at other repair chain and the mom&pop shops.”
My recent experience with WalMart auto was awful. I had a tire fail. I wanted an exact replacement and WM was the only place that claimed to have this tire in stock. The system allowed me to buy the tire, assured me it was being transported to the shop and let me set up the install appointment. So far all good. A few days went by. Then a couple of hours before the appointment I got an email saying there had been a “delay” and the appointment had been canceled. I was told by customer service at that time the problem was the auto center was understaffed and to call to rebook. I tried to rebook right away, nobody was answering the phone at the understaffed auto center so it took me a couple of days to reach someone. They took my appointment but then I gave them my order # I was told there was no tire! It tool a few more days of back and forth to finally get the message the tire was a phantom – the humans at customer support ASSURED me the tire was real AND at the shop, yet the auto center told me the tire was a ghost 🙁 The whole process took almost two weeks of wasted time.
I wished I lived in a world where new aftermarket brake rotors, calipers and pads were that cheap. Just the pads and rotors locally would set me back the equivalent of US$200 per corner…
“Just the pads and rotors locally would set me back the equivalent of US$200 per corner…”
Depends on what and how you drive I guess. For my Gen6 Accord Amazon sells rotors for $17/23 F/R each. Pads run $18/pair. Calipers run $78/120 per pair F/R.
Jenkins and Tracy should start a blog here…”In God We Rust”..
Other than that, Jenkins is a godsend to folks who can’t afford simple vehicle maintenance. You sir, are Oregonian’s hero! Huzzah!!
interestingly the parts are actually pretty reasonable if they go with the most basic stuff. pads and rotor kits are like 50 bucks rear, 50 up front. assuming he damaged the wheel speed sensors, another 10 bucks per wheel and the calipers are 69 a piece. All in this might be about 500 in parts and fluids. Outside of the bleeding process, this is pretty quick repair as well. I bet I could do it inside of 3 hours. I am surprised this passed state tech inspections though.
This is Oregon. There are no state tech inspections.
True. But there are emissions inspections. You can drive around with no brakes, no lights, leaking a gallon of fuel per minute, no problem. But god forbid if you hurt the air.
No emissions inspections in Eugene. Only around Portland and Ashland/Medford.
Jenkins is a saint.
Kudos for him trying to do right by people as opposed to finding ways to separate them from as much money as possible.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where most people have absolutely no automotive knowledge and don’t see any reason to learn, even though it might put them in an expensive, or even potentially dangerous circumstance.
I’ve also seen a couple incidences where someone pulled in the shop with brake rotor surfaces that were GONE with the only friction surfaces being backing plates pushed against the internal webbing structure that holds the front and back rotor surfaces together.
I always wondered if they just turned up the stereo and ignored the god awful screeching until that one day the car just wouldn’t stop. Crazy.
And the OEMs make it harder and harder to work on stuff and/or learn anyway. People are actively encouraged to be ignorant of the way their cars work.
Worked as a service writer at Pepboys (I live in the Tampa area, if you’re interested)
While I was there, a tech sent out a car with the brake pads on backwards, steel on steel. Car came back, understandably, customer didn’t know what was up just that we did it.
Tech pulled them, slapped them back on, sent it back out. Did not surface the rotors, did not replace anything, did not get fired. Did tell me later that he was the cousin of the service manager. He stayed there until I quit.
I tried multiple times to call corporate on the bullshit that went on at that store before I realized they didn’t care and I’d just end up pissing them off. So I got creative and started fighting back my own way. Learned the system and got my customers every single benefit I could possibly get them.
The one that sticks with me most is a deaf man with a Mazda MPV (I think that’s what it was, at least) that had the alternator in such a place that AllData recommended dropping the subframe with the engine to replace it. There were many issues with this whole setup, 1) Pepboys 2) no one knew sign language and he didn’t always have an interpreter with him 3) there was an electrical gremlin frying the alternators and due to #1 we couldn’t handle it, 4) I was the only person at that fucking store left with a soul.
He came in three times to get that alternator replaced, no one would take the time to talk to him. Halfway through his second visit when he was visibly frustrated with everyone in the building, I motioned to him to hold on and wait one second, then I brought out a pen and paper.
We spent 20-30 minutes writing back and forth. I told him what was going on, he’d ask a question, I’d answer, he’d ask another one and I’d answer again and we did that until he didn’t have any more questions. For 20-30 minutes I didn’t say a damn thing. Service manager came over to ask me to help other customers, without looking at him I grabbed another piece of paper, wrote that I was busy with a customer and slid it over to him.
I did everything I could to put us on equal footing and then I just talked to him. I didn’t lie to him, I didn’t hide anything, I told him there was an electrical issue and I recommended a shop that we sent cars to when there were electrical problems. I let him know that once he got the gremlin sorted we could swap the alternator and send him off.
He was turning red in the face when I got to him, when he left he may not have walked out of there happy, but he did leave there satisfied.
There were good days, days when I could actually help customers, but they were few and far between.
I absolutely hated that place. The manager, assistant manager, and other service writers would routinely steal tickets from me, put their numbers on the tickets so they got the commission. Some of the mechanics wouldn’t deal with me for a variety of reasons, usually because I wouldn’t put up with the bullshit they tried to sell customers.
When your job is dependent upon commission, you quickly realize whether or not you’re actually a decent person.
Great comment, really appreciate your thoughts/honesty (and that it got posted!)
I buy stuff at Pep Boys all the time, but always wondered what the service experience was like. I didn’t want to pre-judge, but at least at mine, the whole vibe feels a little off and vaguely predatory.
100% predatory. There are daily quotas for most things. Alignments, oil changes, fuel system treatments, so many hours of actual mechanic time on a non-package deal (brakes are usually a package deal, tune ups are a package deal, etc.)
We were almost always low on alignments for whatever reason. The service manager routinely cut the price in half in order to make quota. If you can get there on the right day, it can be a huge price savings
Can confirm. I don’t and never have worked there, but I’ve gotten state inspections done there. They’ve told me I needed brakes or an air filter or any number of maintenance items when I did not, and knew I did not. As in, I did the brakes the week before I took it for inspection knowing that they were getting kind of low and I didn’t need to be hassled about it. “These things are about shot. There’s almost not material left on them and the rotors are all gouged up!” When pressed to show me, they said they could pass it this time, but they’d need new ones for next year, for sure.
I never went back. Thieves.
‘…he did leave there satisfied.’ You took the time-even when pressed-to listen to him: that’s huge. We spend far too much time shouting at or talking over each other. Empathy is way underrated-even actively scorned-these days.
We love our machines, but we should never forget that there are actual humans behind them.
Thanks so much for taking time to communicate with the Deaf customers! I appreciate the gesture of telling your manager off.
I am Deaf, too, and have to insist on communicating with me all the way until “the customer is satisfied”. It does suck a big time when the employees don’t always have patience to communicate with the Deaf customers through writing back and forth on paper. I often remind the service providers that the Deaf community is very close-knit and does exchange the information quickly on which shops, restaurants, services, and like give excellent treatment or not. They even let their hearing family members, colleagues, friends, and such know which to go and which to avoid. That usually shaped up their attitude toward the Deaf customers for better.
I wrote ~1000 words on this and hit post and the entire article disappeared.
I am very cross right now
Ha! I got it.
Now someone has to approve it for some dadgum reason.
Your comment has been published! Sorry, it got caught up in our spam filters along with 3 other comments. It seems that talking about brakes makes our site assume that readers are spammers.
Thanks. I know that I’ve seen it happen a few times when I post a link. I wondered if the HTML codes I have been throwing in had something to do.
1. Genuine congrats on avoiding the classic chum-bar phrasing of ‘mechanic disabled car when he saw this’, which in this case had to be hard to do.
2. I think endorsing disabling the car is fine. ‘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’ can’t be an excuse for someone with literally no brakes running me over, or plowing into a wall with the kids in it. Knowingly driving around in something that unsafe is sociopathic, even if you really can’t afford to fix it.
That had to make one hell of a racket
until it didn’t. haha.
I’ve been about dirt poor, and had some true shitboxes*, but that beats anything I’ve done or seen! That takes dedication-and way more tolerance for horrible grinding sounds than I possess.
*front right brake pad fell out of the caliper of my first Subaru 30 years ago. I did reinsert the pad and, very slowly, drive home, but it only left my driveway again being towed to the crusher. F that noise!
I had the same thing happen to the $500 Datsun I was driving back in college. Being broke but industrious I used a pair of pliers to take the caliper off the disk and a wire coat hanger to tie it up out of the way. My passenger expressed some concerns once they realized just what I was doing but I figured I still had 3 good brakes including both fronts which were the most important ones.
I was in a ’91 Golf 8v (in about 2004 or so) that popped a wheel cylinder. I was about 60 miles from home and managed to baby it home. Luckily it was a manual so it was easy to slow down and also use the (mechanical) e-brake. $8 for a wheel cylinder, $10 for a bottle of fluid and $3 for a can of brake cleaner later and she was good as new.
$310 parts + $45/hour labor for all that work is a damn good deal
Our auto parts store has small machine shop and we offer rotor resurfacing.
This story is not at all shocking because I’ve seen rotors in this many variations of this condition numerous times in my career.
It’s never a good day when your brakes break.
Christ! That’s terrifying. I take it Oregon doesn’t have annual inspections.
Oregon has a weird(stupid) inspection system. Most of the state has no inspections. The areas around Portland and Ashland/Medford have biannual emissions inspections, but no safety inspection to go with it.
Apparently, tailpipe particulates only are emitted where a car is registered, rather than where it is driven. Also apparently, those particulates can not be carried by the air to anywhere else. Oregon DEQ has installed force fields to make sure.
I actually know someone who offered me an old Audi wagon that had no CAT. I pointed out that I couldn’t register it and he said “Just register it at my house so you don’t need to get it inspected!”
The reason why DEQ only emissions tests in two areas is because of the atmospheric conditions in the Willamette and Rogue valleys are more conducive to smog so the EPA requires testing.
As for why we have no safety inspections, I guess the repair shop lobby never bought enough state legislators.
Absolutely no one can use poverty, or any other reason for that matter, to justify driving their children around in a car WITH NO BRAKES for four months.
There is no possible way this person couldn’t understand the danger they were in either. Even the most ignorant person knows that the braking situation is bad and getting worse.
There is always something you could give up, some other work you could take on, or some other thing to compromise on before you literally take your innocent children’s lives in your hands in this way. I have absolutely zero sympathy, and if I thought it would do a bit of good for the kids, I’d advocate for endangerment charges to be pressed.
This mechanic is a way better guy than me. I came to comment that I would have called child protective services if this guy refused to do the work. This is way beyond ignorance to outright disregard for anyone else and I wonder about the general way he treats the kids, then. Thing is, too, it’s f’n brakes—I did pads and rotors myself with nobody to teach me when I was a teenager because it’s dead simple. Calipers are only a little bit more difficult because of the bleeding. Today there are pictorials, youtube instructional videos, etc. to help out. Who wipes this guy’s ass for him?—he just walks around stinking? If he;s so broke, this clown could have priced the cheapest Chinesium parts himself and figured it out and not had to pay the labor charges, cheaper still if he didn’t neglect it for so long that the calipers had to be replaced. It doesn’t even require many tools and none that are specialized or so odd that he shouldn’t have them anyway as a functional human (if the pistons require being rotated while retracting, AutoZone will rent the tool out with a refundable deposit). Most people I knew when I was young had done their own pads and rotors not because they were into cars but because that’s what a person who isn’t a proudly helpless loser does when they’re actually broke and need that stuff done.
As much as it sometimes pained me when I was broke or to help other people who were more broke pass MA state inspection (for lesser violations than this), I’m glad we have it.
Respectfully, none of us have any idea what the guy was facing in his everyday life, or how much he fully understood the danger he was putting himself and his children in. Fortunately we have people like Mr. Jenkins who shows tremendous sympathy.
Respectfully, if you don’t understand the danger suggested by the fact that you are picking pieces of your brake rotors out of the wheels, or notice the difference in handling characteristics this caused and put 1 and 1 together, you should have your license revoked. Sufficiently advanced stupidity is identical to malice. The only reason this isn’t criminal negligence is that, through some miracle, no one (that we know of) got hurt.
It’s irrelevant what he’s going through for all the reasons I mentioned. Even when I was living on a single ramen packet a day, I found can redemption money and climbed under my car in the Detroit winter to fix shit. Driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege that comes with responsibility and someone doesn’t get to endanger people—including their own kids—because they’re poor. This is worse than drunk driving as that’s at least a temporary condition and the driver is still more capable on the road than this guy with no brakes. “Oh, but he’s depressed because he’s broke, so that’s why he was drinking and driving” or “there’s no good public transportation from the bar and he didn’t have Uber money” isn’t an excuse for that and it shouldn’t be for this likewise egregious disregard for anyone else’s safety here, either.
It amazes me to see folks living paycheck to paycheck, complaining that they can’t maintain their car but at the same time have a top of the line gaming console and/or smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.
I love buying project vehicles, tools, and having a nice glass of whiskey every evening but if my income suddenly changed, those things would go right away.