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BigV 05-07-2007 03:32 PM

Shade tree mechanics
Do you know how to change the oil in your car? Can you replace a headlight or taillight? Most of my friends can do these things but don't, for whatever reason, opting to have the work done by someone else. Rotating tires, replacing brakes, flushing cooling systems, this kind of maintenance is beyond the skill and beyond the interest of almost everybody I know. Am I the last of the shade tree mechanics?

I was waiting at the light on my way to work the other day, and the truck ahead of my was putting out a lot of steam in his exhaust, enough that I noticed his brake lights illuminated the whole cloud while we were stopped. Only when I backed into my parking place at work a couple of minutes later did I realize that the steam was coming from me. :smack: I popped the hood and sure enough, I was leaking coolant pretty freely. Damn. I traced the highest point of the greenish wetness and could clearly see the cracks in the side of the radiator. Time to replace the radiator.

I had never replaced a radiator, but it looked pretty straightforward. A couple of hoses and a couple of retaining bolts, reconnect and refill, and away we go! So I got a quote from my local auto parts supplier (Action Auto Parts, not Sch***k's) and for $276 they would have one there in the morning. I stopped by after work the next day and picked up the radiator and a case of coolant. I decided that Saturday I would start my project.

busterb 05-07-2007 03:40 PM

Have fun. Today I have lawn mower on wheel ramps to remove blades, sharpen. Then change oil in Honda and 78 F-150 PU. And no I won't get it done today. The getting down is ok, but the getting up is hell. :smack:

glatt 05-07-2007 03:41 PM

BigV, aren't you the one who was griping on here a few days ago about left v. right on a car radiator and vague instructions?

SteveDallas 05-07-2007 04:31 PM

I'll do headlights, air filters, etc. myself. But anything more complex, I let somebody else handle. Experience teaches me I'm highly likely to klutz it up.

fargon 05-07-2007 04:37 PM

I do every thing up to and including overhauling engines and transmissions.

Pie 05-07-2007 04:49 PM

Oil? You mean, it needs oil? :confused: :lol:

xoxoxoBruce 05-07-2007 05:13 PM

I wouldn't mind paying someone to do the work if there was someone I could trust to do it right. But alas, people in business just can't take the time to do it the way I'd do it. It might take me two hours to change the oil because while I'm under there, I have to look at, and check out, everything else. Over the years it has saved my ass many times, by spotting trouble in the making. But it's just not reasonable to expect a garage to give it more than a lick and a promise, on an oil change. They might point out things that need immediate attention, in hopes of drumming up some business, but they are certainly not going to evaluate things that don't.

Then there was the time I had to put a timing chain on my V-8 Dodge van. The only practical way was to pull the front bumper, grille, radiator, fan, alternator, power steering pump and water pump, first. Change the timing chain and 4pm on Sunday afternoon start putting it back together.
Hmmm, think, 105k miles... I really ought to replace the water pump while it's all apart. Naw it's late, it's Sunday, I need this to get to work in the morning.

Two weeks, two fucking weeks. Well at least all the bolts were easy to break free.

glatt 05-07-2007 05:30 PM

I've done various car stuff in the past: Change oil, belts, headlights, air filters etc.

I don't like paying mechanics and then not being satisfied with the work. Got the clutch replaced on our manual transmission car a few years ago. It hasn't shifted right since then. There's too much travel in the clutch, and it's real hard to downshift into first gear now. If I had the time and equipment and desire to study how to do it, I'm sure I could have done a better job, but I don't and I don't and I don't. So I either go back and bitch and moan that it doesn't feel "right" or I just live with it. It's easier to just live with it, so that's what I do.

BigV 05-07-2007 05:56 PM


It turns out that the instructions for the drain plug were wrong. Oh well. The end of the story is that the radiator installation ended well, after some frustrating detours, the first of which was the misdirection in my manual.

After that, I was surprised to learn that there are seven (!!) hoses connecting to the radiator. I expected no more than three, one large top coolant hose (out), one large bottom coolant hose (in) and a small hose to the overflow tank. They were there, as well as a pair of hard lines on each side of the radiator, making four more, one in each corner. I soon found out that one pair was in/out for ATF and the other pair was in/out for crankcase oil.

I found this strange since each of these important fluids already had it's own dedicated radiator in front of the large coolant radiator. Well, getting then unhitched wasn't hard, but it was messy. I admit I was a little spooked to see bloody oily smears in my puddle of coolant. Ok, I was freaked out thinking I had some kind of serious internal hemorrhage spilling crankcase oil into the coolant system. Eventually I figured out what was happening though.

Once the hoses were off, a few bolts holding down the top cover and a couple holding the fan in place and the radiator lifted right out. It is not actually bolted in anywhere. The bottom has a couple of locating pins which rest in generous rubber sockets and the top is covered with a sort of plate which is held down with a couple of bolts. That, plus the front top engine mount and she's free.

Once I got it out I could easily see where the coolant was coming from. This is one of them new fangled radiators, with plastic (!) tanks on the sides with horizontal metal circulation tubes and vertical cooling fins. Plastic? Well, the pound that it saved eventually cracked. A fair tradeoff? Who knows.

So now in with the new. It slips into the recently vacated radiator slot nice enough, and I start to reconnect all those dang lines. Coolant, ok. Oil, ok. ATF, not ok. The lines are hard (really hard lines, half inch aluminum, like brake lines) and they don't want to line up with the connection points. I manage to catch what I hope/think/pray is the first thread and snug them up with a couple of largish (19 mm and 16 mm) wrenches. I'm very cautious since stripping either side might make me say a bad word or two... safe. I guess.

All the hoses on, the top plate on, the engine remounted to the front top crossmember, fan in, filled with coolant, fire it up! And I did. And the ATF was drip drip dripping. Shit. What do they use to seal oil? Rubber, right? But these compression fittings didn't have any rubber at all. Just brute force with aluminum on brass on steel. I wasn't eager to win a contest of strength with these fittings... so a day later I went back to Action Auto Parts and plead my case.

Matt (some young whippersnapper) suggested some RTV silicone since it's good for other gaskets. We talked back and forth for some time and eventually settled on a pack of o rings and a spool of PTFE tape (pipe tape).

BigV 05-07-2007 06:01 PM


Originally Posted by xoB
Two weeks, two fucking weeks. Well at least all the bolts were easy to break free.

I *completely* understand this, because

Originally Posted by xoB
because while I'm under there, I have to look at, and check out, everything else.

is the way I operate too.

busterb 05-07-2007 06:07 PM

I've never paid for a brake job in my life. And have rebuilt a few, but time moves on. The new ones w/all the crap on I have not a clue.
My old Ford PU, When younger I could get under hood and stand on ground to change plugs.
Beware of info from auto-parts kids. Around here, 20 miles, I've been buying from O'Rellys? Same brand. Big bucks in savings. So worth the ride. IMHO.

BigV 05-07-2007 06:16 PM


Originally Posted by busterb
My old Ford PU, When younger I could get under hood and stand on ground to change plugs.

Ahh, those were the days. I'll post a picture of my engine compartment from this most recent job. You'll see a *big* change.

busterb 05-07-2007 06:32 PM

Well someone still could, just not me. I'd be stuck there till help came along to get my old butt out.

Undertoad 05-07-2007 06:33 PM

Don't go to the dealers, find an independent mechanic. Most independent shops I've seen would take a wrench out to your car and adjust the clutch in the lot. Maybe I've been lucky.

I've enjoyed doing the basic stuff before: oil, plugs/tuneup, simple tire repair (where you can patch it without taking the tire off). Now I'm leasing and they demand they have to do all the work. It's a mixed blessing.

Oh and for a while I had a tradition that I had to install any new car stereo equipment in the parking lot where you bought it. I realized later that this was probably not the best tradition, and abandoned it.

Now stinkin' Nissan makes it almost totally impossible even to change out a speaker. They mount it nine different ways, partly so it can never rattle, and partly so you have to get the $850 Rockford-Fosgate package which is only an option on the model everyone wants with the sunroof and step rails for an additional $1000.

Perry Winkle 05-07-2007 06:42 PM

I've never changed my oil; I do know how to, in theory...I've swapped my all-weather tires and snow tires; replaced lights and fuses; and changed my antenna. Nothing big.

It's pathetic. I know. Next time I need an oil change I plan to do it myself.


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