Friday, October 10, 2014

The Blend Door Actuator Saga

Our 2003 Chrysler Voyager has been a great car.  It has low mileage, plenty of seats for everyone, and is in fine working order - except for the heater.  We bought the car in the spring of 2012 and with warming weather the thought of testing the heater didn't occur to us.  Dumb, I know.  With a very costly quote to repair it, we opted to leave the heater alone for the summer and tackle the issue when we might need heat.

Then we moved to warm, sunny Houston in October 2012 and we realized that we didn't need the heater.  Yay!  There has probably been one day that we actually needed heat, but otherwise it has been a non-issue.

Fast forward to the current day.  In two weeks we are moving again, back to cooler climates and at a time of year when the temperatures are dropping.  If ever our car needed heat it is now, and now we don't have it.  So, with a diagnosis from a couple years back and having put in a good deal of research since then, Claude and I started to tackle the problem ourselves.

A couple nights ago we went out to the driveway and removed part of the dashboard.  We were looking for something called a blend door actuator.  We read in many forums and heard from the original mechanic who diagnosed the problem, that this part might be what was broken.  If we replaced it the heater just might work.  But first we had to find it.

After removing the top portion of the dashboard, we found what we thought was an actuator.  This, for the record, is NOT actually a blend door actuator.

It controls the remote entry on our van.  Of course, we didn't find that out until we were locking up the car for the night.  You can imagine how disappointing that was.  We thought it was as easy as removing one piece of the dash, finding a replacement, and putting it in.

We weren't even close.

Not wanting to quit, though, we tried again.  This is what I did during nap time yesterday.

Pretty cool, huh?  I thought it was fun.  Well, aside from feeling a little bit awkward when the mail lady walked up the driveway to see me hanging half out of the driver's side of the car.

And this is what the older kids did during nap time yesterday.  :)

The efforts yesterday afternoon were successful.  We found the actuators!  There are two.  The one pictured here controls the temperature (the one we thought might be broken).  The other is just barely in the photo - it controls the vents.

They are in a hard to reach spot, as you can see from the picture below.  They are, however, still within our reach, but just barely.

If you don't know anything about cars, beware of the following sequence - you may be confused.  If you know a thing or two about cars, beware of the following sequence - you, too, may be confused because I have no idea what I'm talking about here.

An actuator is a motor.  The temperature control knob connects to the actuator that turns a gear that's wired to the blend door that opens to allow hot or cold air through the vents.

We thought the actuator was broken and needed to be replaced.  Come to find out, it works just fine.  Naturally, the "easy" fix turns out not to be the problem.

Claude made an interesting discovery, however, while he reached into tiny, tight spaces with big clunky tools.  First, he discovered that we needed smaller tools, which he procured from our local home improvement store.  Next, he found that a little gear kept being pushed back into the abyss of the center console of the car.

You see, only certain parts are accessible from what we opened.  Everything else is somewhere inside there.  Behind plastic and metal, in unknown (to us) territory.

Unlike the actuator and because we are not mechanics, this is very much out of our reach.

The little gear is possibly disconnected from whatever wires or other things it's responsible for turning.  Or blend door itself is the problem.  Supposedly it's not uncommon in our type of vehicle for these doors to be stuck so that only cold air can come through.  The problem now is that we have no idea what we're doing and taking apart more of the dashboard is daunting, to say the least.

When I'm stuck on something like this, I usually turn to Google.  Surely there are tutorials of how to access and replace the blend door in a 2003 Chrysler Voyager.  What we keep finding in our searches are forum posts that go something like this:

"Does anyone know how to access the blend door in a Chrysler Voyager?"
"Nope, sorry.  No can do.  Too much work.  Mine broke, too, and I'm sure glad it's a secondary vehicle because I can't afford to repair it and I can't spend two days taking apart my entire dashboard - it's way beyond my comfort level."
"Maybe it's not the blend door, maybe it's the actuator?"
"Try a space heater!"

Needless to say, these things are not helpful.  It's like a merry-go-round - you keep circling around to the same spot, never getting anywhere.

And for the record, we have tried a space heater.  The car was just as cold as ever.  Perhaps a better one would work??? 

I even tried to find out where the blend door is.  Maybe, just maybe, we can reach it on our own.  Perhaps this repair is within our resources and capacity.  But all I find are manuals for professionals who know what they're looking at and have an idea of where to find things.  No one takes pictures of the blend door or whatever else it's connected to, because very few people have gotten there.

Apparently finding a blend door on a Chrysler van is like trying to find the secret passage into Mordor - you need to go through a lot of junk to get there and you won't even get close unless you have an experienced traveler to lead the way.  Frodo paid for his guide by losing a finger...ours will cost the proverbial arm and a leg.

But now for a spiritual application.  Claude and I have been through countless situations where our physical needs have outstripped our resources by a long shot.  We were in crisis mode for several years and it gave us a lot of practice turning to God to provide for us.

Since moving to Texas, life has been comfortable in terms of financial and material provision.  Yes, we have needed to trust God for many things.  But we haven't actually reached the very end of ourselves in a long while.  We've been able to eek by, barely making it, but still remaining within our resources and capacities.  Like the actuator - difficult, but not desperate.

That's not what I'm talking about here.

This repair will cost just about what the van is worth were we to sell it or trade it in.  It is equivalent to the cost of the moving truck rental that we will need in just a couple of weeks.  And I'll be honest here, it exceeds our savings since God timed appendectomies and other unexpected expenses in the past couple of months.  Options for replacing the van are just as out of reach.

The conclusion we came to last night as we realized that the actuators work, but the heater still does not: We simply cannot do this on our own.

I realize that for some this is probably an uncomfortable thing to read.  It makes you feel worried, nervous, or uneasy.  But it's life.  And it doesn't matter who you are, how well you know the inside of your car, or what is (or is not) in your bank account - you will find a time when what needs fixed is out of your reach, out of your reckoning.

Bu praise God!  Because even blend doors aren't out of His reach.

Updated to Add:  I just received a phone call from Claude.  There is a mechanic down the street who quoted us half the cost of what we have been told previously.  Still more than we have to spend, but a HUGE improvement to the situation.  Hi, ho!  Hi, ho!  To the mechanic we go!

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