Monday, September 20, 2010

Man Moment: Fixing A Car

I got to experience a man moment last week. Jessi's car wouldn't start Monday morning and I was able to fix it by Thursday night.

It's funny, I remember helping my dad fix cars while growing up. I remember there also being more than a couple tense moments either because a screw wouldn't move, we couldn't see properly, something else breaks, or a whole myriad of things not going smoothly. I think being on your back, getting dirty, and having sore arms from cranking on screws leads to much of the frustration. I also clearly remember thinking I didn't want to put myself through that same anguish. Funny how things change when you grow up.

So, Jessi's car wouldn't start. All we heard was a clicking noise. Who knows what that means. This is my first official car problem after all. I try the obvious: grab the jumper cables. Nothing. Next, I switch our car batteries. My car still works, Jessi's still clicks mockingly.

It's at this time we decide to give my dad a call. His prognosis is that it might be the starter. The clicking sound is it engaging, but it's now turning the engine over. I hop online and figure out where it's located: Right under the engine, a little to the passenger side. Oh wait! Before I can even get to the starter I need to figure out how to get under the car. It's at this point that projects start to get out of control...
My home-made ramp

I go to Home Depot and buy a 12'  2"x6". I cut it up into smaller pieces and create a ramp. Of course, Jessi's car can't start, so we need to jack it way up into the air to fit the ramp under the tire. Using her car's jack and my truck's jack we lift the car high enough to fit the ramp under the wheel. We meet our first mile stone.

By the way, notice the straw on the ground? We had just finished our yard project the night before and hadn't even cleaned up yet. Projects are starting to pile on top of each other!

Then Oregon happens. Yep, it started raining. So, we once again got diverted from the project at hand. We grabbed the tarp we put under our tent when camping and throw it over the car. We then use the straps in my truck, which are normally used to tie down objects, to pull the tarp into the air. If you could imagine, it's really starting to look like a work zone. We've got the car in the air and a tarp covering the front of the vehicle. Now we can actually get down to work on taking the starter out.

Taking the starter out is relatively easy. There are only two bolts holding it in, two wires connected to it, and a small plastic case protecting the gears from the elements. If it wasn't for the front axle being the way, this would be a slam dunk. Still, this being our first time ever doing this, it took quite a while to get it off. I might have, possibly, yelled a couple times during the process. During the process I also managed to break my socket wrench. I'll admit it wasn't the highest quality wrench, but I was kind of shocked at how easily I broke it. Though, now I have a brand new one, with a lifetime warranty, so I can't complain too loudly.
The starter

Oh yeah, there were also a couple bolts my sockets couldn't reach so I also got a new 10", 6" and 3" extender set. Now that I think about it, I might have actually come out ahead on this project.

Anyways, we bought a new starter and installed it. I also cleaned off all the ends of the cables. There was a little bit of corrosion around the battery's positive terminal and we wanted to eliminate all possible problems.

Since I had to work during the day, I could only fit in working on the car a couple hours in the morning and then a few hours in the evening before it got too dark. Because Jessi drove my truck to work I also had to wait until the evening before we could get parts. So, it took until Thursday evening before we got her car working again.

It was a great feeling to hear it start up. We were able to diagnose the problem and fix it. Since we have a car maintenance budget, this didn't cost us anything out of ordinary to fix it, which was really nice. I'm sure if we had taken it to a mechanic the total cost wouldn't have been so reasonable (I wouldn't have gotten any new tools). It's now, after being an adult and paying my own bills with my own money, I understand why my dad put up with fixing his cars himself. The difference is material. Cars are just simple enough that with some advice pretty much anyone can fix basic issues.

So I'm now officially in the DIY car fixer-upper club. Depending on how big the next issue is, we'll see if I decide to stay in the club or buy my way out. Right now, after stepping away for a little bit, I feel confident I might be able to handle it. Or, at the very least be able to diagnose the issue with the advice of others like my dad.

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