Saturday, March 25, 2006

high maintenance

There are several reasons why I drive a falling-apart, 14-year-old truck. Some of the reasons, I only share with close friends that I trust to still love me when they know the dark parts of my purple – that’s why I only ever mention them

on my blog. Some of them I’m willing to tell anyone. One of the less honorable reasons is that I have a difficult time trusting garages. I’ve heard, witnessed, and experienced too many horror stories. Another is that for most things that I’ve had to have done, I realized that I could have done it better. In fact, often I have to tweak, adjust, or do over a job after we’ve had a pro do it, as was the case when I had to redo the wiring on Al’s power windows just a few weeks ago after the pro had installed it and it didn’t work. Three times, I’ve taken cars to the shop only to have them returned in the same condition they were taken in. Only once, the garage didn’t charge me for the job they didn’t do.
One of the more honorable reasons is that I actually enjoy working on and maintaining vehicles if I have time. It is very stressful if I don’t have time to get it done. Now I have less and less time and my truck needs more and more care. I have been nursing it for longer than I’d realized.
Tonight, I looked back at some blogs about my wonderful truck and realized that its been a year and half since it stepped forth with its last leg and I thought I was going to have to shoot it. But I bandaged up the leg and bottle-fed it, and kept it going. That is until just before Christmas when it pulled into the driveway steaming and hissing, and refused to go another step. All fall, I’d been trying to prevent that day from happening. I’d replaced the thermostat, the water pump, the radiator, but it was still overheating and leaking coolant. I knew that there was only one choice, and that was going to be major surgery. I left him sitting on the street and procrastinated all through Christmas break because I just didn’t want to get started, and frankly, doubted seriously that I could do the job.
But after 3 months of feeling like a 15 year old, with Allison having to take me everywhere I went, and pick me up, both our lives increasing in stress from the tight schedules that resulted, I had to start turning bolts. Layer by layer, I scattered engine parts and components around the property. Manifolds in the back seat, alternator in Al’s truck, valve covers in the back, rocker arms and push rods neatly labeled in a model cardboard engine in the garage. I labeled every wire and vacuum hose so that a kindergartner could put it back together. I took the cylinder heads to the shop and had them pressure checked and resurfaced, stopped by the store and bought the gaskets and bolts, and went home to begin reassembling. I could write a separate blog of the story of the circus juggling act I had to do to install the heads and intake manifold simultaneously while torquing the 24 bolts in three stages with two different wrenches and 3 different sized sockets. The final values were 90 lbs for the heads and 15 pounds for the manifold. My arms ached.
Reassembly was finished on a Sunday afternoon, and I was sure that I could send Allison to work in her own truck and drive mine to church. But when I started it, I had 3 perfectly water-gun-like streams of coolant jetting from the side of the engine, spraying the exhaust pipe and billowing steam all about the neighborhood. I shut the engine off, got in Allison’s truck and just started driving.
I felt sorry for myself. I SO didn’t want to start taking things apart that I’d just put back together. Eventually, I returned home and just as I was pulling in the driveway, I realized that what I’d done wasn’t the problem. This was something else. So I started the engine again, and sure enough the water battle was happening below the surgical area. Dad, via the phone, diagnosed the problem but offered no help or even hope, in getting the rusty freeze plug out. After several hours spread over the course of a week, I managed to punch it sideways with a golf club handle inserted through the wheel well and pounded with a hatchet, and then pull it out with pliers. Replacing it was easy. I started the engine and let it run, no leaks. Yee haw. But when I turned it off, the coolant was boiling and hissed and bubbled back into the expansion tank. I thought it was going to explode.
This time Allison’s dad said, “did you put a new radiator cap on?” No. “Probably all you need.” Sure. But it was the absolutely only thing I hadn’t replaced. So 30 minutes later, I’ve got a new cap. Start it up. All is well. Smiles all around. He and I test drive around the block a few times. No problem. We decide to go to Lowe’s to supply the next project. We got about a half-mile from home when we’re riding in a cloud of anti-freeze steam. I stopped the truck thinking the new freeze plug had blown out, but find the heater hose loose like the end of a water hose, and antifreeze spraying all over the engine.
Ok, guess what? I fixed it, and two days later, everything seems to be ok. Oh yeah, except my heater still doesn’t work. But it drives and stays cool. Oh, yeah, the gear shift is still floppy, oh yeah, the power steering fluid leaks. Oh yeah, the clutch master cylinder leaks, oh yeah, the rear window leaks…

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