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Discussion Starter #1
Hello everyone. I want to extend a very warm thank you to each and every one of you who have posted all the how-to threads and diy info on here. I've spent so much time reading and learning over the past few weeks I feel like my head is going to explode. :)

I'm a severe DIY'er finding that if I approach life by taking everyone's throwaways, and fixing it for myself, I get so much more enjoyment out of it plus I save so much money. I've built my own bed for my wife and I, buy other people's junk cars and and fix them up and drive them around, fix lawn mowers, chainsaws, air-cooled VWs, and love anything that flies.

I've had an affinity for the quirky vehicle and the better mileage it gets, the more I'm game. Since my VW addiction has led to a collection of them, I've naturally eye-balled the Smart ever since it became available in the states, but true to form I had to wait until I found the right price on one before I spelunkered the cash down on one. I believe I have found a deal.

A guy advertised a 2008 Smart with 100K miles - starts up and runs - but it just won't go when put into gear. It has a salvage title as well. All that title malarky doesn't bother me - anything can get a salvage title at the drop of a hat and I guess as long as it hasn't had an electrical fire or been in a flood, I'm not too worried. Salvage titles are calculated based upon retail price of parts and full labor costs. Even cars with no titles can have a new title acquired by using a titling company or a friend in a bill-of-sale state. I know a cop who will run VINs for me to make sure the item isn't hot. Anyway, where I live nobody wants small cars - thinking they are a bit of a joke I guess, but I'm willing to tackle anything.

The guy claims he can't trailer the car and it needs a transmission reprogram. Fair enough and after reading the forums, I see the clutch actuator is the cause of many problems. Even people whose dealerships say the actuater is seized - I'd love to get my hands on the part because I have yet to run across anything that I can't fix. The actuators in these cars remind me of the German actuators on a paint shaker machine I've used at work. When they go bad, it's a 400 dollar part plus shipping from Germany. So in the case of a car that won't go, I figure with 100K miles, it's more than likely the actuator or a worn clutch that can be remedied enough by moving the actuator away from the clutch. Worse case scenario will have me tipping the engine down and pulling off the transmission so get into it to replace the clutch. Looks like I need to invest in a set of those E-sockets (reverse torx is what I call them) and get ready to dive-in and go for it. The guy wants under $2000 for it and if it starts and runs good, I think I'll dive in and join the ranks. My Aussie bride commutes 60 miles round trip to work, and she'll be the main driver of this Smart and is all excited. I hope this car is as easy to fix as I think it will be. I plan to go through the brakes, change all fluids, and make it safe for her to drive. I'll even overhaul the engine if I have to. Kits are cheap and the local machine shop and I will work together to make it happen.

It shocks me to see how much the dealers are charging for repairs. I know they gotta make a profit, but I live by the adage if you see a rich mechanic, he's a crook. You gotta be able to sleep at night by helping people - not raping them financially.

I'm open to any tips, warnings, beware of this n thats, etc. I'm new, but love the thrill of learning something new to fix.

Thanks again.

-silent
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you jwight! If I indeed acquire the Smart Car then I will make sure and post pictures of whatever I do it. Maybe I can be of some help to others that way.

-silent
 

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If the car will start and idle, I have my doubts about the clutch actuator being the issue. The reason I say that, is the smart goes through a start up sequence. It disengages the clutch before attempting to start the engine. If it doesn't sense the clutch is disengaged, I don't beleive it will try and start the car.

The smart you are looking at may have a gear selector motor issue. If that is the case, your can first try and clean the selector motors. Hopefully that may cure it. If not, you may just need to swap out the trans. smart doesn't service any part of the trans besides the clutch actuator. A good used one shouldn't be too tough to find...
 

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Discussion Starter #6
This is good information to know so thanks for letting me know. Is it possible that the clutch might be shot and when the actuator tries to engage the clutch, the car shifts but just doesn't go? I'll know more when I get to start the car because I can look for error codes and so forth. I'm planning to go look at the car tomorrow so I'll know more and post accordingly at that time. Thanks!

-silent
 

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2008 did have an update for the transmission software and it was one of the symptoms that it would drop out of gear and not move. Happened to mine back in 2008. You may not see an error code as it takes a STARR computer to read the transmission codes, and most of them are at MB dealerships, except for a few.

We have seen clutch actuators with broken components in them, and just plain dried out that have caused problems so it is hard to guess what you might find. Parts are available at salvage yards and Ebay. I got a complete front end repair kit from the guys in California, for just under $1000, roughly $3000 worth of parts so they are out there!

Not sure about my red passion getting a white front end but that is what paint is for...
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Yes Jim I'm with you here. I've been scanning e-bay and found some good deals on good used transmissions. One guy has the entire rear sub-assembly (engine and all) from a car that was wrecked. Fortunately enough smarts have been out there and wrecked that there are good used parts available with a little bit of effort of looking. My nearest dealer is about 2 hours away, but I have a car trailer and friends with trailers that love road tripping so hauling it up there isn't the end of the world. I can't seem to find a definitive answer on flat towing - some say yes and some say no. I'd love to find a bonafide answer, because I could tow it behind my car with a tow bar which would be the simplest of all options.

I took the day off from work and am heading out shortly with my wife to go have a look. I'm going to really pay attention to what I see on the dash and try to get a look underneath at the clutch actuator for starters. I'm going to listen to the engine for any noises, watch for oil smoke, check oil and fluids, check the speedometer for any wrench signs and 3 bars, check the tires, and really scrutinize it. It's sitting at a repair shop in the parking lot and I suspect in part that it's just too different of a car for this mechanic to work on. It sounds like the customer doesn't want to put any money in it (or can't) and just wants to take the money and buy something domestic they can afford to have fixed. I just can't imagine there is anything that majorly wrong if it starts up. It's gotta be clutch, actuator, or that shifting motor. I'll also try to investigate why it has a salvage title on it by looking for concealed crash damage.

Thanks for your replies - they are always appreciated.

-silent
 

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The sad truth is that these cars originally sold for a low price, and went down in value quickly so it doesn't take much for insurance companies to 'total' them because of the cost to repair them. My 2008 hit a deer this last fall and the repair estimate came to over 3,000. just about the 'value' for the insurance company. I drove it home and plans are to install the front end and keep driving!

Be careful about a cylinder miss as those get mighty expensive if it is valve work (a common problem)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Yeah Jim that's one reason I want to really listen close as a car with this many miles on it is a bit of a gamble. I don't really feel like doing a rebuild right off the bat either. When people say a car starts and runs, they don't ever say how many cylinders it's running on! I work on lawn mowers regularly and I've had people bring me riding mowers that said it just wasn't cutting very good. I start it up and right off the bat I hear it running on just one cylinder (on the 2 cylinder models). Usually a fouled plug is the issue from leaving the choke on too long and once I put in a fresh set of plugs, it cuts fine because before it wasn't turning with enough RPMs to cut the grass.

I would really like to do a compression test on the car, but people don't usually let you do those things. They only want $1500 for the car and I'm going to try to get 'em down and offer cash. Then it will give me more wiggle room if I do end up working on the engine a bit. I think you're right about the salvage title thing and the low cost of the car. It's got 100K miles on it and a cracked front bumper. It also doesn't move. The repair bill for that with labor at the dealership probably puts it in salvage status just like that.

BTW: Were you ever on a email list called vintagvw years ago? I ask because of your handle on here.

-silent
 

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Yeah I get that a lot. my name is left over from the early internet days when the best you could do was sign up for AOL, they gave me that name and it just sort of stuck. jim is my first name, VW is my last initials and 57 was when I was born... I haven't been on any VW websites...A corvair man back in the days..

Just thought i'd mention about the 2017 midwest rally next spring in Iowa... something to shoot for!

http://www.smartcarofamerica.com/forums/f506/2017-midwest-smart-rally-121986/
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Okay Jim here is the latest:

I got the carfax on it and it revealed the original dealer was in the Kansas City area and in fact the Smart has a Nixa, MO sticker in the window. I called and left a message with the dealer and their tech guy called me back. He was cool to deal with - Joe is his name - and after giving him the VIN# he revealed that it had been in their shop just last year for water damage. I asked him if it had been in a flood and he said it could have been or left the windows down in a rain. They replaced the transmission shift actuator and it didn't change anything so they bailed and so did the customer and somehow the car wound up here in Nebraska after that. The car fax also revealed brake service just 3 years ago and was a driver up until sometime late 2015.

I texted the owner and he said it wouldn't start when he got it but when he installed the new computer, it would start up and that's as far as he wants to go with it.

So now what? A dealership couldn't even fix it and they were focused on the transmission issue. The current owner said it wouldn't run when he got it and a new computer got it running. It doesn't beep incessantly or anything like that - just says N and no matter what you do with turning on the key, foot on the brake, and all that good stuff in an attempt to reprogram the transmission - it won't go. In fact Joe told me that they did attempt a reprogram and and it didn't change anything. The current owner was telling me how it just needed a reprogram so he's just spewing out stuff to try and get the car sold. My wife sat in it and had a big smile so she likes it and it's mine if I can figure out how to fix it.

I was thinking about this - if it had water in it - anything on the bottom of the car possibly could have gotten water in it and since I'm not familiar with the physical locations of these parts, I'm not sure what other electronics could have been affected.

Since the screen shows N, I'm wondering if the shift sensor was affected and is simply reading incorrectly? I'm open to suggestions. They guy wants $1500 and I'm willing to bite if I think I stand half a chance of getting this old beater going again. The car doesn't look bad, but needs a little TLC. In parts it's worth at least this much.

Any suggestions Jim or anyone else? Should I walk away or try to fix it to keep this car on the road? It certainly leaves me room to spend some money on it at that price.

-silent
 

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$1500 is not a bad price, but the bad part is the unknown of what the problem is. It could be as simple as a corroded connector, or a weak battery, or bad ground.. or as complicated as a poor connection in the can-bus or a blown trans computer.Without a STARR computer , which is what the dealers have, it might be a tough one to get back on the road.

I might suggest another very nice looking car with lots of added features that I know of for sale, might be a bit more expensive but the extra items on the car would be worth it!!

Oh Neon...... Pretty sure Tucker is still on the selling block!
 

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Welcome silent!!!! :)

Technically, my little Tucker is and isn't on the selling block. I did some minor wrenching with the plugs, coils, some Marvel Mystery Oil, and cleaning up most of the smoke/fire damage in the engine bay. Now that seems to have satisfied Tucker's requirements for running without dying. To be honest I really can't tell if it worked, it's too cold out for the engine to fail like it did during the summer.

Once my paychecks started rolling in from the new career, my girlfriend realized keeping him wouldn't really cost us anything...so she wants me to keep him and turn him into my "girl cave" or a racecar. I like that idea... I also like the idea of even more extra money. I guess whether or not he actually gets sold will be decided by where we move to in February. :) ...or whenever MBFS makes up their mind on closing my account (I got a letter that it's been paid off, but the account remains open for some reason).
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thanks for your replies Jim and Neon. I talked it over with my wife last night and I told the guy I'll take it. I'm up for the challenge and knowing the dealership replaced the transmission actuator (what the guy called it) that's a major expense already taken care of. It's a bit perplexing as to why the dealership was working on the transmission shifting issue and then this owner said it wouldn't run and he at least got the engine running. Something happened along the way.

The cover over the gearshift lever has been removed and the parts laying in the back above the engine so I'll just have to methodically take a look at these things and see how they mount back up, but in the meantime, I told my wife I'm going to need to pull the seats out and basically just have a look at where these computers are just to get an idea of what could have been affected by water. This STARR computer you speak of Jim - I wonder why the dealer in KC replaced the transmission actuator if the STARR computer readout said anything definitive? Maybe it didn't. And something very interesting which my wife noticed - when I put my foot on the brake and tried the clutch actuator retraining trick, even though nothing seemed to change on the screen, when I put the car back into park and turned the key off, it rolled forwards a little just like when you take an automatic car and shift it out of gear and back again - then it rolls a little bit until the drive train binds back up against whatever keeps it from rolling off. Something happened.

Finally, I read on another thread where a guy said the computers in these cars are VIN-tied. What wasn't stipulated is if the car will still work with computers from other vehicles? I know the engine starts and revvs with a computer from another Smart. As long as the transmission will do the same, since we don't have emissions testing in Nebraska that is of no concern to me. I hate all these unknowns, but the prices on ebay for the used parts aren't bad.

I'll start with just disconnecting wiring connectors one at a time, checking for corrosion, and making a list of what has been done. I'm pretty sure I'd like to replace the transmission computer (if it sits on the floor or the bottom of the car) as well as the gear shift position sensor. The fact the car is displaying that it is in neutral all the time tells me that something isn't telling the transmission to shift. That has just got to be a sensor or computer issue in my mind.

I'll keep pushing forward. My friend's big Dodge 3500 dually diesel and 32 foot gooseneck trailer is headed to pick the Smart up Saturday. His car trailer is tied up at the moment so it's going to look goofy having all this hauling equipment with a go-kart on the back. LOL!

Any tips on how to safely hook a cable up to the smart for winching purposes? Is there anything underneath to hook it to?

-silent
 

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There should be a tow bolt under the floor mat on the pass side, there is a molded spot on the foam for the bolt, and for the tire air pump. That threads into a tow hook hole on the front and rear bumpers,. there should be a plastic cap over the hole in the bumper. The thread on the bolt is a special thread size that is not too common so don't lose it.

Been there!!



Best of luck! I believe the trans computer is in the right rear fender... also there is a ton of more technical info at this site with pictures!! http://www.evilution.co.uk/index.php worth the few dollars just for the pictures on parts removal.
 

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Okay Jim here is the latest:



I texted the owner and he said it wouldn't start when he got it but when he installed the new computer, it would start up and that's as far as he wants to go with it.

So now what? A dealership couldn't even fix it and they were focused on the transmission issue. The current owner said it wouldn't run when he got it and a new computer got it running. It doesn't beep incessantly or anything like that - just says N and no matter what you do with turning on the key, foot on the brake, and all that good stuff in an attempt to reprogram the transmission - it won't go. In fact Joe told me that they did attempt a reprogram and and it didn't change anything. The current owner was telling me how it just needed a reprogram so he's just spewing out stuff to try and get the car sold. My wife sat in it and had a big smile so she likes it and it's mine if I can figure out how to fix it.

I was thinking about this - if it had water in it - anything on the bottom of the car possibly could have gotten water in it and since I'm not familiar with the physical locations of these parts, I'm not sure what other electronics could have been affected.

Since the screen shows N, I'm wondering if the shift sensor was affected and is simply reading incorrectly? I'm open to suggestions. They guy wants $1500 and I'm willing to bite if I think I stand half a chance of getting this old beater going again. The car doesn't look bad, but needs a little TLC. In parts it's worth at least this much.

-silent
First of all, I am constantly amazed that in the 21st century there are so many so-called professional mechanics that do not know how to diagnose a problem. End rant.

When you say the dealer could not fix it, do you mean a franchised smart dealer or a independent dealer? I guess it doesn't matter at this point if they can't fix it.

When you say the computer was replaced, which computer do you mean? There are ten or eleven control modules on the car that run various systems and talk to each other.

When you start the car the trans control module needs to see the clutch released and the trans in neutral, otherwise it will not allow the engine control module to crank the engine. If the engine runs, one can assume the trans control module under the driver's seat is doing something. Whether it is doing it correctly is yet to be determined.

If we assume the trans control module is working, then the lack of a shift into gear becomes the issue. There could be a fault with the shift motors on the trans, either faulty or not installed correctly. There could also be a issue with the clutch not releasing. If the clutch is not releasing there will likely be too much drag on the trans synchronizers to allow a shift into gear. Another possibility is that the clutch actuator is physically broken. If the actuator motor runs then the trans control module will think it is releasing the clutch. If the push-rod on the actuator is broken it will not push on the clutch release fork, so no disengagement.

All kinds of jiggery-pokery going on here. What you need is someone with a scan tool that can read faults and live data on the trans system. Aftermarket scan tools can do this. I know Snap-On, Autel and maybe Launch make tools that will do it. A European specialty shop can probably scan it to see what is going on. If they know what they are looking at. Always iffy. Live data will show the clutch actuator movement as well as the shift motor movement on a capable tool. That is the place to start. One is not going to get far just looking and poking on these cars unless you have unlimited time and money to throw parts at it.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Since I'm new to the Smarts, I had no idea to look for the tire pump and tow hook so I'll have to wait until I go to pick it up to see if it's got that stuff in it. Thanks Jim! BTW: I like the photo! :)

-silent
 

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First of all, I am constantly amazed that in the 21st century there are so many so-called professional mechanics that do not know how to diagnose a problem. End rant.

When you say the dealer could not fix it, do you mean a franchised smart dealer or a independent dealer? I guess it doesn't matter at this point if they can't fix it.

When you say the computer was replaced, which computer do you mean? There are ten or eleven control modules on the car that run various systems and talk to each other.

When you start the car the trans control module needs to see the clutch released and the trans in neutral, otherwise it will not allow the engine control module to crank the engine. If the engine runs, one can assume the trans control module under the driver's seat is doing something. Whether it is doing it correctly is yet to be determined.

If we assume the trans control module is working, then the lack of a shift into gear becomes the issue. There could be a fault with the shift motors on the trans, either faulty or not installed correctly. There could also be a issue with the clutch not releasing. If the clutch is not releasing there will likely be too much drag on the trans synchronizers to allow a shift into gear. Another possibility is that the clutch actuator is physically broken. If the actuator motor runs then the trans control module will think it is releasing the clutch. If the push-rod on the actuator is broken it will not push on the clutch release fork, so no disengagement.

All kinds of jiggery-pokery going on here. What you need is someone with a scan tool that can read faults and live data on the trans system. Aftermarket scan tools can do this. I know Snap-On, Autel and maybe Launch make tools that will do it. A European specialty shop can probably scan it to see what is going on. If they know what they are looking at. Always iffy. Live data will show the clutch actuator movement as well as the shift motor movement on a capable tool. That is the place to start. One is not going to get far just looking and poking on these cars unless you have unlimited time and money to throw parts at it.
==============================

Hello Rustedwrench and thanks for jumping in here to help me on my journey to learn all about Smart cars so I can get mine back on the road.

Here are some highlights of what I know about this Smart:

The guy I talked to is the owner's mechanic who didn't work on it at all - the mechanic's friend did. Both the owner and mechanic told me that it wouldn't start or run at all when they got it. When I go to pick up the Smart, I'll have him show me what computer specifically he replaced.

The dealership said the car came in with "water damage." They replaced the transmission shift actuator and when that didn't do it, the customer and them elected to stop right there. I found that a bit funny that they would replace a shift actuator when the water damage was to the electronics, but then again, since I don't know how the water damage occurred, it's anyone's guess. It happened in November Kansas or Missouri so there usually aren't big downpours of rain then. This Smart is fairly clean inside in that there isn't a high-water mark or a pond-water smell. I'm wondering if someone spilled something inside, but then why did the dealership replace a part on the transmission?

The current owner and the mechanic friend both said it just needs a transmission reprogram. The dealership in KC, MO said all of that was tried after the transmission shift actuator we replaced and it didn't change anything.

The dealership in question is Aristocrat Motor Co. Inc in Merriam, KS

That's the extent of what I know. I'm with you 100% about running a scan and diagnostic. Is this something an OBD II reader can handle? I think I could learn lots by simply taking it to a Smart dealership and have them do a deep scan diagnostic on it and just tell me what the codes are.

Thank you for your comments and a full diagnostic is something I'd really like. The 2 closest places I know of that can do work on Smarts is Omaha and Kansas City and sure shooting if I knew what the heck I was doing, I'd really love to do this myself so I can learn.

-silent
 

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nothing wrong with a complete scan, but it may not point you in the right direction. Sounds to me like you have the thought process to find the problem on your own, and the mental attitude to make it work. Or at least narrow it down to some logical choices.
Rustedwrench has some good points, but he has to realize you don't even have the car yet so at this point you are collecting information and possible 'what If' scenarios. Sounds to me like you have a challenge and if I had the time and space for such a project, I'd be right there with you!!

Right now I am waiting for either warmer weather or my neighbor to head down to Arizona and leave me a garage spot to work on my smart, and a Century that both need some attention. (2 deer hits in one week) Easy fixes just need the space and time.
 
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