Blown Head Gasket or Catalytic Converter Melted? I Ended up Trading in the Focus RS

On a recent road trip from South Florida to North Carolina, I encountered a Check Engine Light (CEL) on my dash. Not only was it unfortunate to run into this issue on my road trip, but I saw this light pop up 3 hours into the trip. Now for those not aware of the pleasure of owning a MKIII Ford Focus RS, there has been a known problem with the engine’s head gasket that has gotten owners in a tizzy. (see https://jalopnik.com/why-so-many-ford-focus-rs-owners-are-freaking-out-about-1820280550). I, of course, was kind of freaking out because: What if it the head gasket blows in the middle of the trip? Will I find a dealer who can address it during the holidays? Can I trust these dealers?

So after 5 miles of freaking out and hoping the light would go away, I finally pulled off to the next rest stop. I quickly stopped the car, opened the hood and checked the coolant levels. They looked fine. But wasn’t sure because, the car wasn’t very level with the ground at the time. I looked for any signs of coolant leaking at the head, and sniffing the exhaust pipe for any faint smells of sweet burnt coolant. Nothing.

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If I only had an ODB-II port scanner to see what the code was. Not knowing what to do with out one, I searched for the nearest dealer. Just my luck Palm Bay Ford was the next exit over.

I get to the dealer, the tech tells me that they are backed up. I quickly told him my situation and asked if he could at least tell me the code and get some sort of idea what’s going on. The tech comes back with the scanner and pulls up the code P0420. It’s a vague description. Catalytic converter. Ok, so at the very worse, it could be a bad O2 sensor and the car would be in “limp mode” and run the fuel mixture rich to prevent any knock from happening. So what? I get some bad gas mileage. Yeah that sucks because I’m driving 1800 miles during the week, but at least it’s not a blown head gasket.

The technician told me he could clear the code and see if the light pops up again. He then looks at me slyly and says, “Are you tuned or have any aftermarket parts on the car?”

I reply quickly, “No, no. I’m stock except for an air filter.” Knowing that if Ford finds out I have put any aftermarket parts on the car I could be denied of any warranty work on my car.

The technician then replies, ” Ok, because I’ve put a down pipe on my Focus ST and I get that code all the time because of it. Keep an eye on it. It might not come back.”

Feeling a bit relieved, I drove off and continued my journey. 300 or so miles later the CEL pops up.

“Damn it.”

I pull over to the next rest stop, and remembered I actually had an bluetooth ODBII scanner in my car.

“Dumb ass.”

I whip it out of my glove compartment and proceed to check the code. P0420.

“Phew.”

I cleared it one more time and it eventually popped up again 300 or so miles later.

After the trip, I ended up taking it to my local dealer. Not my “go to” Ford Dealer, but the one closest to me, because the other dealership I normally get my car serviced at is in the middle of a buy out transition and didn’t have access to their diagnostic tools and software.

I dropped it off at Metro Ford in Miami. One week later with them with my car, I finally receive a phone call. They have to replace the catalytic converter and that they need more time with it because they have to drop the transmission to get to the catalytic converter. They finally put me into a rental car. Now I drive this car:

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I think I’ll do a series called Rental Car Reviews in the future.

I hope to get my car back soon because there’s an autocross this weekend. Or maybe I just take the rental Focus SE?

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The future of Suspension Tuning: DSC Sport Controller V1

DSC Sport Controller V1 unboxing

So I took some crypto gains to purchase this little box to install on my Focus RS before a road trip. As most owners and those who followed the release of the Focus RS, that the suspension and ride is less than cushy comfort for daily driving for some. I found it ok. It was definitely feeling like a stiff sport suspension, but daily driving around 21,000 miles, I didn’t feel the need to whine and complain about it. Anyways, I purchased it more making my semi-active suspension (on the fly damper adjustments for normal and sport) to a fully dynamic active system as well as for my passengers who don’t seem to appreciate the spine tickling suspension on less than perfect roads.

DSC Sport has created a replacement suspension controller that will tune any magnetic or electronically controlled suspension that will dynamically respond to the car’s data sensors. I think it’s better explained from DSC themselves on their website:

DSC Sport offers a plug-and-play factory replacement controller that provides CAN-integrated Dynamic Suspension Control with unlimited tuning capability. Gathering CAN data from the vehicle in real time, DSC Sport sends a signal to each individual corner to control the damping level based on g-force, vehicle speed, brake/throttle input, and more (specific inputs vary by vehicle and package). The result is an active suspension setup that provides more grip to the tire, greater stability and ride control, and increased comfort for all driving styles and road conditions.

These guys make applications for most cars that feature an electronic suspension from the Nissan GTR to the Porsche 911s and Camaros. They also provide support and software to fine tune your suspension data to better fit your driving needs. This is the future of suspension tuning.

Although some might say that this modification might not provide faster times on the track or autocross, I’m led to believe that the driving feel will be much improved once I find out for myself. I’m sure it will remove the pogo-ing feel that the over rebounded dampers in sport mode provide and keep my tires connected to the pavement, just like most owners notice with minor changes to springs, sways, and wheel and tires.

So, installing this before a long road trip from FL to NC should give me a good idea if I cashed out on some of my hodlings well. Any improvements over that will just be icing on the cake.

The Driver User Experience

The driver’s user experience. That sounds a little bit repetitive, mechanical, and awkward, but I think it describes what I want to publish in my little corner of the internet.

I am a car enthusiast. I enjoy the look and design of them. I like the sound their engines and exhaust pipes emit at different RPM intervals. I like how the new car smell differs from a BMW to a Japanese econo-box. I scrutinize the shifter feel after a perfect rev-match because it’s not “notchy” enough to my liking when I do the 3 pedal dance with my feet. I long for a curvy, traffic-less road. I adore on/off ramps. A third gear pull to speeds enough to break the law is as enjoyable as the sound and smell of squealing tires from low speed doughnuts and drifts. These are common feelings that car enthusiast share. But I want to cover the driver user experience (UX).

What do I mean by driver user experience?

There are so many things I could describe that compile together as driver user experience. From the radio button layout to the menu selections in the car’s navigation screen. How about the front and rear visibility of the car’s surrounding and how well it works with the rear view camera or the parking sensors? It can be the exhilaration of acceleration combined with noises from the engine and the reality of what the speedometer shows. From the cupholders doing their jobs in turns due to size and fitment to how secure you feel in the seat as you feel the car’s weight transfer in corners to urge you to go faster. It’s the quirks each car has that make you wonder, “what were the engineers thinking?”. From the moment you get in the car and power the engine to the moment you step out and everything in between – that is the driver user experience.

This will not just be automotive related reviews. I do not want to spit out facts and figures of 0-60 mph in x.x seconds. That is easily regurgitated with a quick Google search. I want to critque the user experience in the automotive industry.

Software and it’s digital user experience is quickly making their way into our cars. Screens that manages almost everything, from climate control to engine monitoring. With more software UI/UX integrated into cars these days, it is necessary to bridge traditional, mechanical, analog UX to modern digital UI/UX. I want to find the UX quirks that most cars have and explain how the user flow or design could be better.