Tuesday, September 25, 2012

7th New Thing ~ Change is Messy

Have you noticed how your car seems to run better when it is freshly washed and has a full tank of gas. I love that feeling. If only it were that simple.

I find car trouble particularly stressful. Maybe it's just me.

It isn't the repairs themselves I find intimidating, but the mystery of tracking down what the actual repair needs to be (for real and for true) and then the cost to actually fix what needs repairing (for real and for true). A car mystery can become a bottomless money pit.

Aside from that, I am not afraid to get my hands under the hood, trying to understand how this piece of machinery works so I can best maintain it. Learning which parts are which, how they work, how long you can drive without some of them, what they sound like when they "break."

Two Barbie Car Facts:
I've never owned a new car.  (Now, there's a New Thing to aim for!)
I can rarely spend the money for a 'real' mechanic.

Consequently, I've been known to rely on kindness from my dad, dates, boyfriends, husband or occasionally, my best-friend's dad, dates, boyfriends or husbands. When someone was kind enough to work on my car, I enjoyed watching as they worked, asking questions, learning a few things. If felt good. I don't want to be one of those 'delicate' girls afraid to break a nail or mess up my hair.

Over the years, I've learned to do a few very basic things.
How to:
  • Check the oil and add more when needed. 
  • Check and top off the radiator. 
  • Check the brake fluid. And the power steering fluid. 
  • Jump a dead battery. (Except perhaps in my son's car, as his battery hides under the back seat. Those crazy car makers, playing Marco Polo with the battery.) 
  • Check and maintain the air pressure in my tires. Hell, I can change a tire (but please PLEASE don't make me do that).
  • Set the gap on a spark plug.
  • Add air to air shocks. (Are those even a real thing any more?)
  • Depending on the car, I can change the air filter. My old Mustang was easy. The Mazda? When did air filters stop being shaped like a doughnut? Car companies are just mean sometimes.

Plus, there's just stuff I know. Parts I can point to and identify. Helpful hints. For example:  V-8s have 8 plugs, 8 plug wires. And if you get the order of those plug wires screwed up, it will ruin your whole day. And you'll probably hear swearing.

Recently while driving, I realized I was turning up the volume of my audio book more than usual. Then it dawned on me to turn it down and listen: "What a minute!! What is that noise? Is that my car? Please let that noise be coming from that other car...Please!  I'll be a good girl."
But no. It was my car and coming from the front end. A hum. Tires? Brakes? Something in the suspension? No clunking noise when I turned corners, so probably not those acronym joints...CV...PVC...PCP..ARC? Trans-axle joint, I think. Oh, I hate when my car makes a new noise.

So I took it to a well-known 'tire' place that also does brakes, shocks and such. A chain of stores that I'm not necessarily recommending because their customer service quality reminds me a bit of Russian Roulette. Only not such good odds.

The Diagnosis:
Needed new front wheel bearings on driver's side.
"But we recommend you do both sides at the same time." 
Well, of course you do. For nearly $400 dollars, you should also vacuum my trunk and walk my dog.
"Okay, I'll check my calendar, then call and make an appointment to get that done."
I walked out the double glass doors, turned to the 'mechanical type' that I'd taken with me.
"Can you do it for less?" I asked.
He looked at me. "Do you want to do your own wheel bearings as one of your 50 New Things?"

Changing the bearings on my car was not on my early (or latter) list of 50, but I'm game.

One thing that was on my early list was Do My Own Oil Change.  It feels like a very basic and valuable thing to know. Nice not to have to depend on someone else for this.

Although wheel bearings is probably not a skill I'll need as often as changing my oil, it sounded like an adventure. So, I figured...kill two birds....

(No actual birds were harmed during the process, although I did flip a couple of by-standers the bird at least twice.)

The following Friday, I headed to my former house. My former husband's house. With some kids and grandkids in attendance, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was moral support and entertainment value.

Lynn supplied the supplies. Lynn. . . . .if I had money for every time he's uttered the words "I'm not a mechanic......" I could probably afford to take my car to the dealer every time

Under close supervision, I proceeded to:
Jack up the left front of my car.
Place wedges behind the back tires.
Loosen the lugs.
Jack it up more.
Remove the lugs
Remove the tire.
Okay, I had to recruit assistance....but I tried really hard to remove that tire. "Help!"

Once the tire was off, we inspected the brakes. (Looked good.) And then took them off. I kept following directions. Loosen this. Take off that. People were pointing and instructing. It became complicated enough, that after a bit I could no longer keep track of the names of every piece I was handling. I kept thinking how the 'not a mechanic' guy would have been moving a lot faster without having to walk me through it.

I'm not sure at what point it was, but eventually Lynn determined that we wouldn't be able to do this ourselves. Not going to happen. Something about not having some fancy tool and there not being enough beer in the world. So I started putting all those loose, small, unnamed parts back where they belonged, as directed.

It turns out, replacing the bearings on my car would not be one of my 50 New Things. Conceded.

I have to say I wasn't all that disappointed. It was worth a shot but probably not a 'skill' I'd be able to retain and use again.

On the upside, during the attempt to replace the bearings, I did make an important scientific discovery: Brake fluid removes nail polish WAY better than that stuff they sell as polish remover at beauty counters. While bleeding the brakes, slippery brake fluid flowed over my hands. When I looked down at my fingers, my polish was gone. Magic. They should bottle that stuff.

So, having failed to kill the first bird, we moved onto the second, less intimidating bird.....

7th New Thing: My Own Oil Change

I know this may not sound ground breaking but have you ever done it?

I slid under my car. It's dark and grimy.....the bottom-side of cars. I asked Ciara to hand me a rag so I could start cleaning the under belly of my Mazda. "No, Mom," she said.
I removed the oil drain plug. "Once you start unscrewing it, go fast or the oil will run down your arm," two people called from somewhere out in the fresh air and sunlight. "And the oil might be hot." The car had been sitting through out the bearing attempt, so the oil wasn't too hot. 
Lying under the car, I waited for the old oil to drain completely, muttering at Ciara because she wouldn't let me clean while I was under there.
I removed the old filter. Again I heard..."Once you start taking it off, go fast or there will be oil all over the place." Well, as it turns out....'fast' is relative. I got oil all over the place.
I smeared oil on the gasket of the new filter. Who knew?
I twisted the new filter into place. This wasn't as easy as it sounds. The threads didn't want to catch at first, but got it eventually.
I replaced the drain plug so that when I poured new oil in, it wouldn't simply run right back out again.

I'm surprised to report...it was great. I loved doing this New Thing. I thought it would just be a valuable chore to master. But instead it was actually fun. And satisfying. Messy as hell. I got warm, dirty oil on my sleeves, all down my arm, on my face, in my hair.

I crawled out from under the car, dusted off my ass. My hair. My elbows. It was futile. I headed top-side.
I poured in a few quarts of pretty, new oil.
I checked the dip stick.
I started the car to circulate the new oil into the new filter.
I checked the dip stick again.
I added a bit more oil.
I checked the dip stick.

Clean oil. New filter. It felt great. Even better than a fresh car wash and a full gas tank.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this New Thing, is that it was basic and straight forward enough for me to do it again, without someone leaning against a nearby car, tipping back a cold one, calling out the next step, one at a time.

In fact, I could go outside and change my oil right now. Well, as soon as it's daylight. And I could do it unsupervised, Baby! I'd probably be slower than the professionals at Jiffy Pop or wherever. But I could oil-change your ass off.

Trying to position the jack, thinking I'd be able to do the bearings.

Does this jack really work? 

How much did that guy say they'd charge to do the bearings?

I'm not sure what I'm doing here; I just like the picture.

Fighting with the last lug.


If I remember right, loosening the caliper? 

Sequoia loved the suspense.
"Can she do it? Will BB have dominance over the wheel bearings?" 

No, as it turned out. Wheel bearing replacement was not to be. 

On to the Oil Change....

Wearing the standard Oil Change Protective Gear....

The warm, slippery oil felt kind of cool. 

I asked Ciara, the staff photographer, if she could get a shot from up under the hood, of me laying beneath the car. But all you can really tell from this picture is that I need a new valve cover gasket. 

Maybe another New Thing??

Thanks, Lynn, for your help with my car. Thanks to Colin, Ciara and the GrandKiddles for your support and levity.


  1. Hahahhahahahhahaha and yes to all of the excitment of being able to do it yourself. I used to. Now I don't care to. for $31 I let my local neighborhood guy have the business, he isn't a chain. That and DAMN, I had a thing about getting my hands dirty. Wheel bearing, yes, once - in a different life. But my BF at that time and his brother had a car repair business and more tools than they needed. So. 1. GOOD FOR YOU - YAY! 2. Now that you have done it - supoort your local lube place. Throw back a cold one yourself and move on to something else new, like my oil being changed by you and by God, I will give you rags to clean my engine.

    1. I love hearing that you're using a local guy who isn't a chain....you know, since my calendar's too full for me to do it for you anytime soon. ~ B

  2. Way to go, it seems like an easy thing to do but it can be challenging when you have a filter that is tough to get off, a drain plug that might have been stripped by the last specialist!! You may never do this again but at least you know how.Way to go B

    1. I plan to do it on my car from now on. I really liked it.
      The most challenging part was driving the car up onto the ramps. I am not sure I can do that by myself.

      If my next vehicle is a truck, maybe it will sit high enough that I won't need ramps. I'll keep this in mind when I next car shop.

  3. Good for you! This would not be on my list of new things, although, I am impressed by how much you embrace the learning of each new thing. You make tasks like changing oil look fun.

    1. It was surprisingly fun.

      When the 50 New Things comes up in conversation, it's fascinating what people say they'd be interested in doing. And the things they would not.
      Mention Hot Air Balloon and some people light up, others turn pale.
      For some, a new thing would be base jumping.....But for me? NO CHANCE!!
      I enjoyed the acupuncture; some people won't even talk about it.

      Have you thought of your 'I' thing yet?

  4. Good for you!! Sequoia looked a little concerned for you there! :) My aunt...Rosie the Riveter!! I will be dropping my car off for some maintenance in December....

    1. Maybe I've earned my own rivet gun?? And if so, I'd be happy to change your oil when you return, although word on the street is, your car MIGHT need more love and attention than an oil change can provide. I can relate.

      Perhaps you and I could sell our two cars and come up with enough cash to buy ONE used yet fully functioning vehicle. We can take turns, like a time share. Just not anything yellow if we can help it.

      Yes, Sequoia was on the edge of her G-Diaper, watching to see how I'd do. ~ Aunt B

  5. Love the pink fingernail polish.

    1. I love the pink too. But not for much longer as the Red Polish Season is coming with the change of the leaves.

      I wonder if it's a bit odd that someone who wears no make-up, doesn't color her hair, uses no curling or straightening iron always wears nail polish. But one of my favorite things on the planet is that I always have a color that cheers my spirit right here at my finger tips.

  6. Whoever said that you cannot do some car work with a nail polish? Well, I beg to disagree! And I think you learned a lot about cars over the years. And it is a good thing. Knowing the basics and fundamentals of car repairs is definitely an advantage. For one, you can use this knowledge in times of car troubles, and you can immediately pinpoint your car issue and help the mechanic with his job!