Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parts is Parts

When I was a teen, very few kids had their own car.  I had to share a Chevy Malibu with my mom and sister.  I can remember logging mileage and pro-rating the gas money based on miles driven per driver.  Oh, how I wish it was based on time behind the wheel, because I am sure I drove faster than both of them.  Despite what they think, speed had nothing to do with the tree that jumped out in front of me and punched “Bu” in the teeth.  It took some low budget garage-time and multi-colored junk yard parts, but Bu eventually made it back on the streets.  After I saved enough for some Crager wheels, a sweet paint job and some air shocks, that little muscle car hung with the big dawgs in the bowling alley parking lot. 

My oldest daughter, Ashley was able to score a decently sporty (despite its age) red Grand Am that helped her be one of the “lucky” kids.  Well, that luck ran out in the dreadful parking lot of the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center.  Anyone familiar with that contraption, who just nodded their head in agreement, understands (unless they are still sitting in traffic trying to escape the lot’s grasp).  Because of the damage (she was T-boned) we had to rely on the professionals at West Lawn Auto Body (you owe me one for the free endorsement, Dennis) to put her car, “Gwen” back together.  I am happy to say that Gwen still prowls the roads today. 

My youngest daughter, Stephanie has her own car now, too.  She caught a hand-me-down from her great-grandmother.  Now, I know what you are thinking… it is a “grandma car”!  Yes, it is an olive green, four-door, four-cylinder, funny-smelling, unimpressive piece of Mr. Iacocca’s former inventory, but it gets her where she wants to go, and she has it all to herself.  Besides, the odor has been masked by the half-dozen strawberry air fresheners that dangle inside, and the kissy lip magnet and a few dollars’ worth of plastic AutoZone bling jazzed it up quite nicely.  “Ivy”, named simply for her color, gives Steph the freedom and independence she has earned. 

Steph complained to me about an annoying squeak Ivy was making.  I took the typical dad stance at first, and told her to “live with it.”  One day, as I watched her leave for work, I heard the awful noise she was telling me about.  This was no squeak, this was a metallic bark.  No wonder she was embarrassed by it!  Later that week, I decided to investigate the cause; I know enough about cars to impress an 18 year-old girl with little to no mechanical skills.  I shimmied (OK, I flopped) under the car to take a peak while she pushed lightly on the fender to recreate the squeal.  Before long, I had the cause identified.  Seventeen years of PennDOT road salt has eaten away the left rear sway bar bushing strap bracket.  Don’t be too impressed, it took me over a week to identify the part’s name with the aid of the track mechanic I work with and a few crafty Pictionary-grade sketches.  For the first few days it was called the “thinga-ma-jig”. 

I started shopping for the new thinga-ma-jig, and planned to make my final internet selection on a weekend, but I was asked to help teach Basic Vehicle Rescue to a rather large class that Sunday.  This last minute schedule change crammed up my Saturday plans, and I never had the chance to order the part.  As it turned out, procrastination paid off for me once again! 

That Sunday, I awoke at an ungodly early hour for the class, and I was still half asleep when the class got started.  I made a mental note to avoid late night lager the night before the alarm clock gets set for o-dark thirty.  I didn’t even realize that the one car we had to work on for the class was the exact year, make, and model car as Ivy.  Halfway through the morning session of stabilizing cars, someone forced a door open, and the squeaking grind it made immediately reminded me of my need for a new thinga-ma-jig for Steph’s car.  Jeeminy Moses, there sat “her” car, right in front of me!

During our snack break, I had the backhoe operator flip the junker on its side, the class helped stabilize it, and I quickly cannibalized BOTH rear sway bar bushing strap brackets!  I have been teaching auto extrication for almost 20 years, and have scored some awesome treasures, but this one was a real treat!  It wasn’t the value of the part that was a big deal, it was the timing circumstance under which I found it that was amazing.  What were the odds?  I figured I would be a hero for finding a FREE part to make my daughter smile.  I was too pooped to fix it that night, but promised to play mechanic the following weekend.  That whole week, I was bragging about my good-fortunes, and was looking forward to my weekend driveway mechanic opportunity; that is, until Friday afternoon…

A parent knows after one sentence when their kid is in trouble.  My first line to my mom when I hit the big maple tree was, “Mom, can you bring me my wallet?”  Ashley’s call to me started with, “Um, can you come give me a ride?”  Steph’s report led off with, “First of all, everyone is OK…”  This show of maturity was likely due to the hour delay in contacting me about the crash.  It was pretty clever of her to think through the call to dad BEFORE actually dialing the digits.  Smart girl, huh?  Anyway, this is not about the inevitable fact that she had her first, and hopefully last, crash.  This is about the repair process.

After making a few calls and pricing out both new and used replacement parts, I decided to take Stephanie with me to a junk yard.  Making her go along was supposed to be a punishment for her distracted driving, but it turned into a great daddy-daughter experience.  I was so proud of the way she was digging through cars looking for lost treasures to repurpose and clues to potential “crimes” that had been committed inside these cars, and having someone along to tote the tool bucket and car parts was a real treat as well.  After a bit of searching, we found three olive green 1996 Chrysler Cirrus sedans that offered all the parts we needed.   

I have been teaching crash rescue for 20 years, and know hundreds of methods that can be used to remove a wrinkled car from around a patient.  Many of those tasks involve very powerful hydraulic tools, that snip and bust their way through the components of a car in seconds.  In rescue, however, we are never concerned about saving parts in an undamaged state.  We use tool to perform the following functions (in decreasing order of awesomeness): Severing – Distortion – Displacement – Disassembly.  I found myself struggling with sockets and wrenches to carefully remove parts that could have been forcibly “disconnected” with the push of a button using a rescue tool.  This was all very foreign to me, but going “old school” with hand tools was a great experience.  Within a couple of hours, we were at the gate, paying for a hood, hinges, grille, license plate holder, upper radiator mount, radiator support arms, and a cowl cover.
I spent the afternoon in the driveway, revitalizing Ivy’s front end.  Thankfully, the labor consisted mostly of simple parts replacement, and just a little bit of hammering like a baboon.  By the end of the day, I had her looking almost as good as new.  The junk yard hood is a shade darker than Ivy’s, and there is a tiny sag to the plastic bumper cover that I couldn’t straighten, but for a total cost of $80, she was back to looking decent for a grandma car with 140,000 miles on her.  After I finished her up and started cleaning up my tools, I hopped in to turn her around when I heard the dreaded SQUEAK! 

Oh yeah, I forgot all about THAT little bugger.  No problem.  I was feeling like Mr. Goodwrench, and already had my tools splayed around the driveway.  Even with the setting sun, I was confident that I could swap this last part and finish the job before it got too dark to see.  You know that little saying, “Haste makes waste”?  Well, it sometimes makes blood as well.  The thinga-ma-jig would have to wait for another day.