The last few articles have been written with some authority because I am authoritatively good at basic, entry level mechanics. If it’s running I can keep it that way as long as the parts are available, and if the parts aren’t available I can kludge with the best of em. But I did not get here by playing it safe and sticking with what I knew, and I’m not that guy now. I bite off more than I can chew, I’ll keep a kludge far longer than is needed, I’ll endure a week of bus rides over a busted up back, and try to rush eight hours work into the two hours between work and dinner, or just make a rookie mistake that costs me $50 and two hours to fix.
Anyhow, I’m here to talk realness about cars, because working on them is hard work, it is difficult unless you have the right space to work on them, and it takes a lot of time, patience, screwing up, and fixing it. This one isn’t about what order you should put your wrenches on your hand truck or any kind of high mindedness about what vintage or origin of cars is easiest to work on. This is about the fuckups, kludges and failures.
My 68 Datsun, long suffering with little reward, now sports an enormous oil filter of unknown vintage which happened to be on the shelf when last I was feeling oil-changey. Actually that memory has a somewhat vintage feeling itself, now that I think about it. Maybe it’s time to fix that. It’s a big filter, I probably added a half a quart of capacity to the motor by using it and it fits right in the vehicle’s character, having been rescued from a barn only to find new life as the world’s most reliable dump runner. Sometimes if it screws on you gotta see if it works, sometimes you find out that the only difference in most older domestic oil filters is how tall the can is. Other days you spend five hours removing an exhaust manifold to replace it with a header, and then spend two hours putting that manifold right back in because the dozens of people online who swore up and down they had one in theirs were just lyin’. The difference between getting duped and learning something is all in measuring it yourself. Get out the visual aids if you have to. Getting in the car once is better than getting online a thousand times.
And it’s important to reevaluate your projects from time to time. In the time between when I started this article and today, the world’s most reliable dump runner has been sold and I upgraded to a 94 Jeep Cherokee. I need a dump runner less and less and a 4×4 more and more. I read a LOT about doing SAS swaps, how to mount a transfer case in an old 2×4 frame. It was fun to read about and fun to think about but when it came time to answer whether I wanted to have a hot rod Dodge or a hot rod Datsun finished, the answer was Dodge. So off to the next guy she goes, earning me $50 over my purchase price and not even washed.
And now about the Zebra. Princess Shamwow is stalled right now, well… not stalled but it appears I’m still digging my way to the heart of it’s problems. I tried to take it down the block to get some lugs busted off and it died 50 feet from my driveway, and hasn’t been able to drive more than 50 feet since. The battery just dies, there’s a huge short somewhere, I finally get it back into my driveway and begin digging into the harness. Despite the presence of super heavy duty “fleet wiring” on this particular dart, the main harness bulkhead power wire is shorted somewhere, and melted into the adjacent circuit at the firewall. The alternator is hot from the effort of welding wires together and the battery is only saved by the shittastic positive cable. I was dreading this, worst case scenario: I have to rewire an old car. Suck ass. Time to throw that piece of shit away right?
Ehhh nah. It’s cool, actually, I had a 12 circuit harness laying around already (these things are filthy cheap now and pretty good) and it only took me like 2 hours to pull every wire out of the car and cut off all the custom-looking plugs. It took another two hours to pull the forward and rear cable bundles through to their loom hooks. I will not lie — It’s gonna take a while to get all the plugs on; but I’m actually not that worried about it. I have heat shrink, a good set of crimps, a good stripper tool, and a huge bag of insulated blade connectors. I’m not even gonna tape up the harness, I’m just gonna ziptie every few inches to keep it in a bundle. I debated about how to penetrate the firewall, and I even went so far as to buy a Weatherpack 22 cavity military connector but it seems like an enormous pain in my balls to crimp 44 connectors and weather blocking jammers and still figure out how to cut this obtuse ass shape in the firewall if I’m not planning on plugging and unplugging the harness a lot. Which I’m not. I’m not planning on unplugging it from the car ever. There’s no reason to. The front clip never comes off the body on a Dodge, so I think I’m going with plan b. I’m gonna use the original firewall plug plate, cut off the old plug bases and drill a big enough hole to fit a ¾” PVC electrical conduit box bulkhead through, silicone the thing into place, then stretch a piece of bicycle inner tube over the whole mess and feed the wires through. Once all the wires are fitted, I’ll fill up the cavity with some more silicone, heat shrink that bike tube down onto the wire bundle and it’ll look mostly legit and be so much more reliable than the old wiring it’s ridiculous. But it is gonna be hard, and it’s currently still raining up here in Portlandistan and that is a huge ass bummer.
I also had a problem with my new Jeep on day one. The drivers side brake caliper was dragging and the brake was smoking hot after a drive from downtown. I limped it home slowly on residential streets and parked it, and sat down with the phone calling the dealership and trying to figure out of my warranty covered brakes, and how much a deductible was. They said that if I just paid the $300 now they’d have the truck come out and then it didn’t matter how much the rest of the work cost. Now, I understand better than most that not only are used car dealerships criminal enterprises, they are also part of a criminal network of warranty companies, shitty shops, etc, who are designed to take money out of your pocket first and then out of each others pockets in the long run. But $300 to start a brake job? The discussion of where the work would take place began to make my head hurt and I just hung up went to the Autozone on my bike and paid $40 for two new brake calipers and $10 for a bottle of brake fluid. Took me about an hour, meaning my hourly rate on that job was like $250 right? That’s top shop prices.
The next problem (and blog post): the turn signals won’t cancel after you turn. We’ll talk about trying to navigate the parts catalog and car company politics.