Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2001

Home mechanic wipes out weekend

December 20, 2001

This column is an attempt to salvage something from a lost weekend.

I'm not the best mechanic, I know, but I am the cheapest. So when I learned the windshield wipers didn't work on the used car I bought last week, I set out to fix them.

I could hear the wiper motor running and a mechanical sound, so I figured a nut or bolt had worked loose. It would be an easy fix, I reasoned.

The problem was getting to the problem. I popped the hood on the fine Swedish automobile, only to find it provided no access to the wiper mechanism. To get the wipers functioning, I had to explore the uncharted territory under the dash. Just to find my way around that deepest, darkest recess, I had to purchase of a shop manual.

The shop manual provides explicit information on how to set valves, replace a clutch, rebuild a master cylinder and other complex procedures, but the details of the windshield wiper system left a lot to the imagination.

Saturday afternoon, manual and tool kit on hand, I attacked the problem. I took out the glove box, removed a cover panel and a series of heating/air conditioning vents.

Since electrical wipers replaced vacuum systems three decades ago, I've never had wiper fail for any reason other than a bad motor. Yet this car's seemingly jerry-rigged system of rods, cam and cables seemed destined to fail. Once I gained access to the system and understood how it worked, it was time to quit for the day. I mistakenly assumed it would only finish the job on Sunday.

The problem was the confined work space. I had to thread cable over a cam using my sense of touch alone. The job was made worse by the presence of a brass bracket with sharp corners that sliced up my knuckles and left my right wrist with six scabbed over slashes. I look like I belong on a suicide watch

As the going got tough, I tried to maintain my Zen mechanic mindset. It's the process, I reminded myself. Understand how the system operates and work with it, I thought.

I bought the car from a minister in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The seller was the obsessive sort who openly told me he couldn't trust me until the check cleared. His compulsive personality complicated the whole transaction and added another lengthy trip to pick up the car.

Yet, this detailed-oriented, untrusting fellow failed to mention the wipers didn't work, something that set less well with me the more I struggled with their repair. Now I know I should have tested them, but I was more interested in how the soundness of the car's engine, transmission, brakes and so on.

Finally, with a third hand from Laura, I reassembled the wiper system. When I tested them, they worked fine. There was, however, an ominous cluck every time the blades cycled. I drove.

Monday morning, I found an icy film on my windshield. I sprayed washer fluid on the windshield and turned on the wipers. They made one pass over and stopped.

I'm OK with it. It's the process, I remind myself.

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