You may have noticed by the weather that this job was stretched out over a number of weeks. The handle originally broke in October, but didn’t get fixed until early December. You see, prior to the door breaking, the 3 had been parked since June because of a string of breakdowns. You will remember that we had one of the body mounted studs snap in half when we were replacing our struts. What we didn’t mention was that while this was being fixed, Street Sports also spent a week bleeding our brakes. While sitting at a stop light, our brake pedal dropped to the floor and wouldn’t pump back up! At first we thought the master cylinder had sucked in air because of low brake pads, but after a week of bleeding the brakes in every possible way, we were still at a loss. Turns out the brake booster had failed. See, a torn diaphragm, the most common type of booster failure, does not cause the brake pedal to go immediately hard. The brakes will still work, but the pedal will be soft and accompanied by a whoosh as vacuum pressure bleeds through the tear. The pedal will also feel normal at high vacuum (such as when engine braking coming to a stop light). The Mazda CX-9 underwent an NHTSA investigation over faulty boosters, so Mazda has a history of booster issues. Browsing forums for brake problems, it seems a number of 3s have the same symptoms (spongy pedal that makes a whooshing noise, and bleeding the brakes doesn’t fix it), but dealerships and mechanics misdiagnose it as a master cylinder or ABS pump failure. On a car with such low miles, this is pretty bad.
The day we wrapped up our struts, the engine began to misfire, but without throwing a check engine light. This ended up being nearly two months of headache, including three trips to the dealer and a call to Mazda HQ. If you know anything about EFI, you’ll know that at a bare minimum, an engine needs a throttle position sensor and a crank position sensor for the ECU to be able to run the engine. So it is more than a bit frustrating when a broken crankshaft position sensor doesn’t throw a code! Not even a Mazda diagnostic reader could tell the crank position sensor had gone out. Seriously Mazda, OBD has been around for over 20 years, how can your ECU not even diagnose when one of the fundamental engine sensors has gone bad? Finally, the overall quality of this car was well below what I’ve come to expect from Honda, Toyota, or even Isuzu. The leather seats of our Project VehiCross may not be in great shape, but at least they haven’t torn like the 3’s have, this despite having half the miles of the VX and tinted windows. The bumper plastics of the 3 are incredibly brittle and it is rare to find an MS3 with perfect bumpers (at least we know how to fix it!). After all of these messes (the brake/strut issues even caused me to miss a family vacation), we were already on the fence about what to do with this car. A 1,700 mile road trip was going to decide whether or not we kept it. The door handle broke with 300 miles to go. Decision made. Once I took apart the door and figured out what broke and why, I was totally fed up with this pile of garbage. If we were keeping this car, we would have done a better job of fixing the handle permanently (like using some JB weld and a piece of aluminum sheet metal to reinforce the fulcrum), but by this point I was completely out of fucks to give for the 3. It’s such a shame because the MS3 was one of my dream cars and when I first got this car, it was spectacular. It’s so much fun on the right road, but like a bad girlfriend who cheats on you with your best friend, then begs you to take her back, this thing had to go. Never meet your heroes, right?