Mea culpas usually fall on deaf ears, but when physicians, politicians or the mechanic that’s been billing you at $105/hour admit to fault, there is a sort of glee rarely equaled in the human experience. To that end, I have decided to bare all (whoaaa there, Nelly, not like that) and share what I consider the highlights from my dumbest moments as a mechanic. Enjoy the self-esteem boost while it lasts: The mépris will be back in my next column.
The first new car I purchased in 2008 was a five-speed base model Subaru Forester for general farm use (see right). What I didn’t know—and didn’t check—was the relocation of the cold air intake duct after MY 2005. Instead of being mounted in the upper grill, SOA lowered it to pull more cold air in from ground level. Noted in the picture above, "ground level" would have been a good phrase to have in mind before I attempted the “creek” cross.
Automatic transmissions: They’re not for everyone
Before assuming that a car won’t start and popping the hood in full dress wear on a Friday night, one should make sure it’s actually in park. Those neutral safety switches can make you look like a real girl. I left an aging car of a friend’s in neutral one afternoon with the e-brake down after having pulled the instrument panel in front of it for some rewiring until glue on the panel could dry. As I primarily drive manual transmissions, the car's failure to start while tired and running late to deliver it before dinner didn’t correlate to the fact it was still in neutral, not park. Good thing other animals adapt faster than we do.
Crush washers: Unlike American optimism, you can’t crush ‘em more than once and expect good results
Cobblers’ children go barefoot, and mechanics' cars get serviced last. During a last-minute oil service on my own car, I realized I was short a crush washer for the oil bung and opted to do what I never let anyone who works for me do: reuse the washer. I did, drove on and luckily parked over concrete later that night. A massive blotch like a stain on my conscious appeared in the morning as I backed away from the parking spot—and here’s another hint, the solution is not to torque it down more. This is where you admit your mistake, get a nice new copper crush and swap it as fast as you can so as not to lose your full new oil service.
Fuel filters: Hint, if it has to do with gasoline, you might want to double-check your work
This was probably one of the more sobering moments as a green tech 12 years ago. After replacing an inline fuel filter on a Volvo, I secured the two banjo bolts running to front and rear of the filter but only remembered to fully torque one. The car idled fine, but once put on the road with vibration, the customer lost fuel pressure and called to say, “I smell gas, and the car has no power.” Sometimes, techs are very lucky to stay employed. I was one of those.
Ground: It’s how you feel after you chase a “no start” for an hour that didn’t actually exist
It’s humbling when a 1967 domestic can make you cry; actually, it’s kind of soul-crushing, but that’s exactly what happened after completing a full column swap and power steering conversion on a 1967 Ford F-250 and driving it home, only to have it no-start on me an hour later. Assuming the worst isn’t always a good trait, so after an hour of chasing contacts in the column and ignition box, I tried once more to start the truck with the hood up. Magic. Close hood. No more magic. Amazing what a ground short on the terminal will do to (to one’s confidence, that is).
$8 or $400, it’s your choice
In an earlier Schucks Tape, I touted the cost effectiveness of Volvo 240 ownership. Though this is still a true statement, there is a list of about five parts that cost $300 or more, and one of these is an air mass meter. It is fed air by a valve in the air intake box that opens and closes depending on what a tiny thermostat that is spring-loaded decides. When these thermostats age and die, they can freeze or “recirculate hot death air” to the AMM (Volvo quaintly calls this a pre-heat or “warm-up cycle”). You should replace them about every 100K or five years. I didn’t. You do the math. You can buy them here.
Just because you’re an ASE master tech doesn’t mean you should be let anywhere near a lawnmower
See photo below, and I rest my case.
Hannah L. Coffey is an ASE tech and divides her already-fractured time between teaching at UTC and working/writing about Subarus, Volvos and diesel Mercedes power trains. You can grill her about the latest quirk of your aging machine, what [she thinks] you should buy or whatever else strikes your fancy on her blog or by email. When in doubt, you should always seek the advice of a certified mechanic in your area. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.