HICAS Removal Nightmare
First off I'd like to say that I never intended to put this page together. I was hoping to work everything out with Stillen and had pretty much been in direct contact with them and let them know how I felt about the whole situation. I also wrote their General Manager a letter and received a response back. However, what happened today, pushed me over the edge. Let me also say that except for my two most recent purchases, I had been mostly a happy and satisfied customer.
Well, let's begin. The nightmare began on Sunday, April 9, 2000 right after our ClubZ monthly gathering. A few friends, Lee D., Dale M, and George K, came over to my house to help me install my HICAS replacement bar and to help Lee install his sway bars.
I had looked over the instructions and thought it would be a straightforward installation. Boy was I ever wrong.
Following the instructions, I proceeded to remove the stock HICAS plumbing and steering unit. This went fairly easy, until I had to remove the tie rods from the rear knuckles. The tie rods did not want to come off. After 2 trips to the local car parts store, I ended up with the correct bearing puller to pull the tie rods off. Thank you George for getting that tool for me.
Now I had the stock HICAS unit with the 2 tie rods still attached removed from the car. Removal of the tie rods was a royal PITA. It took a strong bench vice, 3 sets of arms and some big pipe wrenches to get one tie rod removed.
At this point, I am feeling pretty confident, until I look at the threads on the tie rod and the threads inside the HICAS replacement bar. The tie rod threads are a fine pitch and the bar threads are a course pitch, so obviously the parts cannot be attached properly. The next day, I got a thread gage and found the tie rod threads to be M14 x 1.5 and the HICAS bar threads to be M14 x 2.0. Damm........So here is how my car sat till today, April 22, 2000, 13 days later.
So if you don't want your car to be like this, make sure to check those threads as soon as you get the part.
Ok, Monday morning comes and I call Stillen customer service and get routed to voice mail. So I leave a message, but am afraid that I will never get called back. So I have the operator page someone in customer service. I get a hold of someone and explain the situation and he says that they will send out a new bar as soon as they get the old one back and can verify the problem. I said that this is unacceptable as my car is up on jack stands. I have a track event in a few weeks and have a lot of things to do to the car like installing that roll bar in the back of garage that you see in the picture above. So he agrees to send it out for next day delivery.
Tuesday comes and go and as I am really busy with work, I totally forget about the arrival of the new bar.
Wednesday comes and I call customer service and get the same damm voice mail. Rather than leaving a message on that voice mail, I leave a message on the phone of the individual that I talked to on Monday. A few hours later I get a call back saying that there is a problem because a few other customers are also having the same problem. I am informed due to a shortage of good parts, that parts are on allocation and that he will call me back shortly with an update. 10 minutes later I get a call informing me that I am lucky because there are just enough parts such that I will get one shipped to me overnight, so that I will definitely have the part before the weekend. Thank god that I do my own work on my car, as it would be impossible to find someone competent to install this over the weekend.
Thursday comes and goes without a part so I call back late in the afternoon and get the same voice mail recording. I have the guy I have been dealing with paged so that I can get a UPS tracking number. I get it and track it down and it shows that it will not be delivered till Friday. Damm, it was suppose to sent to my work on Thursday.
Friday comes and no part again. I track it down and it says it was delivered. I call UPS and they said they left it at my the door steps of my home. Damm, I said to send it to me at work. Thank god the UPS driver left it there, otherwise I would probably have to wait till Monday to pick it up at the UPS office.
Friday evening I get home and go get the box and I am scared from the looks of the box. All the staples have been removed, and only tape is holding it closed. Also the outside of the box is also very dirty and greasy. I open the box and all the foam packing insulation is gone expect for a handful. What's going on here? Oh @$$&%)^, I look at the threads and am positive they are wrong again. Sure enough, I check with the tie rod and it doesn't fit again. The instruction sheet is also dirty, as is the part. I am positive that this is a returned part.
Saturday morning, I call Stillen and no one from customer service is there, so I leave a meassage with the person that I have been dealing with and also with the General Manager, who I dealt with on a problem with my previous purchase. If this doesn't get resolved, I am about ready to go to Steve Millen directly.
At this point, I decide to take things into my own hands and wipe my hands of Stillen forever. First off, I am not happy with a heavily stressed soft aluminum suspension part using bare aluminum threads. Being a paranoid mechanical engineer, I feel more comfortable with having helicoils in the bar, similar to what AP Racing does on their aluminum calipers. Unfortunately, I can't find a helicoil kit on Saturday, but I know of places where I can get one on Monday.
On Sunday, I decide that I don't want the Stillen name anywhere on my car anymore, so I take the bar to my buddy's house and we use his mill to remove the Stillen name. Also since my friend has a lathe, we turn the ends of the bar so that they are round rather than square so that when I do the final installation, the round rubber boot will fit more cleanly. Since we did all this machining, I decide to reanodize the bar. I get the bar back from the platers on Wendnesday and then I install the helicoils. See the pictures below to see the differences.
So I now I figure I am set for a quick install on Saturday afternoon
before I have to get on a plane for business trip back east. I install
the tie rods with no problems whatsoever. I put a washer in between
the bar and the tie rod so as to try to keep the overall length of the
HICAS bar and tie rod assembly as close to the original length as possible.
I know the tie rod length is adjustable and that I will have to realign
the car, but I can't figure out why Stillen would make the bar shorter.
I also put some Loctite on the threads. This is not mentioned in
the instructions, but is good practice. Also if you look at the original
Nissan HICAS, they have some hefty locking nuts on there to make sure the
tie rods don't ever get loose. You could just imagine what would
happen if the tie rods got loose and they had a chance to pull back and
forth on the soft aluminum threads. I feel much more comfortable
with my setup of helicoils and loctite. Also look at how clean the
installation looks with the rounded end piece.
Extra washer between the HICAS bar and the tie rod
Round rubber boot cleanly installed on HICAS bar
Ok now I figure I am homefree. Damm, wrong again and this is what sends me over the edge. I try to mount the replacement bar and the holes on the bar do not match up with the threaded holes on the rear subframe. Dammit ##$%S$#%. I compare the bar to the other untouched Stillen bar that I still have and the holes on that don't match either. Damm, all this work and the part still won't fit on the car. The holes are at least 0.10" too close to each other. I compare to the original Nissan HICAS unit and they do the smart and obvious thing. They have one normal round hole and one slotted elongated hole to take into account tolerances and different cars. Why couldn't Stillen do this. They obviously had access to a stock Nissan HICAS assembly. I now assume they measured one car and assumed all other cars would be exactly the same. Who is designing this stuff? Now I understand why in the past, I had to file Stillen parts to make them fit. Where are the mechanical engineers and their tolerance studies? The holes were drilled for the exact size of the bolts so there is absolutely no free play at all.
So I get out my die grinder and go through a couple of soft bits trying to widen one hole. I try to fit the bar again, and think I have it, but the slot is a tad too short and some aluminum gets on the threads and transfers to the threaded hole in the subframe. Damm, now it looks like I have damaged the subframe. @#$%!%. I finally calm down and go buy some better die grinder bits and a tap to clean up the threads on the subframe. If these subframe threads are damaged beyond repair, I am totally screwed. I can't imagine what a new or used subframe would go for and I have to be ready for Thunderhill Raceway by next Sunday, April 30th. Luckily, with a lot of slow careful work, I am able to repair the subframe threads.
So I finally have the HICAS replacement bar on the car. See the
picture below. I wish I could tell you how the car drives, but that
will have to wait as I have to get ready to get on a plane early tomorrow
morning. I guess I will find out next week on the track at Thunderhill.
Final installation with my modified bar without the Stillen logo
Btw, I did weigh the stock Nissan part and the Stillen part and there is an 8 lb difference as is stated in their catalog. So at least they got that right.
Also, as you can imagine, I am no longer going to be doing any business with Stillen. Although many consider the cost of their parts already high, I always felt that I was getting fair prices and service from Adam. However, now that I look at it, the true cost of ownership is much too high. With all the extra tools, plating cost and my own time involved, these parts are really too expensive. Thank god I didn't have to pay for machining time.
One last thing, I know that my case maybe the exception as I know Mike K. installed one on his car a couple of weeks ago with no problems. However, based on what I have seen there are definitely chances for others to have the same problems that I had. I would also feel more comfortable if changes were made to the design like mine, especially the addition of the helicoils and Loctite. If you still plan to go ahead with it and need any help or info, then email me.
October 18, 2000 Update: The nightmare continues. Today I received a late payment notice for the defective replacement bar that was sent to me. What really irritates me on this is that Stillen was suppose to send a UPS courier to my workplace to pick up the defective part. The courier never came so I tossed the defective bar in the trash. I figured that I would save the next guy the headache of receiving this part again. By the way, I had received a call a few months earlier from customer service inquiring about my late payment. I explained the situation and they said they would cancel the charges. I thought everything would be fine, until I received this late payment notice today. I am sending a letter off directly to Steve Millen this time.
December 2002 Update: If you go to the Courtesy Nissan parts site, you will see that they are selling a HICAS eliminator bar made by Top Speed. If you look closely at the large pic, you will see that they incorporated a couple of the changes that I suggested above. Nice to know that someone is listening out there.