Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

23 July 2011

Mike's Luck With Cars

Mike's Geo Tracker

My friend Mike has the best bad luck with cars.

One night last fall, he and his girlfriend, Judy were at my house in Florida. At some wee hour they left in Mike’s 1992 Geo Tracker which has about a million miles on it. Ten minutes later he’s on the phone – broke down just a couple of blocks away. Could I come and get them? Sure! I did, and took them home. Literally, they had made it two and a half blocks.

Next morning we towed his car back to my place and did some troubleshooting in the cruel light of day. The engine would crank (turn over) fine but apparently had no spark at all. Something didn’t sound right. On a hunch, we popped the distributor cap and hit the starter. The distributor wasn’t turning. This could only mean one thing: The timing belt had broken. Meh- this is what happens when you buy a well-used car.

Technical Aside: Smack dab in the center of the engine, the crankshaft sticks out at both the front and at the back. At one end (the “rear”) it drives the transmission, as you’d expect. Where the crank comes first out at the “front,” there is a “timing belt” under a cover that connects it with the camshaft which in most cars is up in the cylinder head. The camshaft often drives other items, like the distributor which sends electricity to the sparkumplugs. Please don’t confuse the timing belt with the “drive belts,” which are on the outside of the engine and turn the water pump, alternator, power steering pump and (usually) air conditioner although not on Mike’s car. (Oh by the way, there are oil seals at both ends of the crankshaft, but we’ll get to them in a bit.)

Okay, back to the broken timing belt. We picked up the shop manual for the car and a new belt, spending a total of about 25 bucks. I read up on the procedure. It seemed very simple: Pull just about everything on the front of the engine off, remove old belt, install new belt, put everything on front of engine back on. Sounds complicated, but in reality it wasn’t. That little Geo has plenty of room under the hood to work on stuff, unlike most of the cars I’ve owned where it seems that the car was assembled upside down…by midgets with tiny, tiny hands.

Mikey started the job around 10 a.m. I had some errands to run, and when I got back he was buttoning it up. Total time on the job: About four hours, which is phenomenal I think. Had I stuck around to “help,” the job surely would’ve taken six or eight hours, maybe more.

So a couple of Saturdays ago we were tooling around up here in Washington in the very same Geo Tracker which has even more miles on it now. We’d just gotten back to his hangar when I smelled burning oil, which is never a good thing.

“Uh-oh, what’s that smell?”
I asked.

“Uh-oh, there’s smoke coming out of the hood!”
Mike said, alarmed. Smoke is not a good thing either.

Popping the hood, we saw that the engine compartment was covered with oil. Apparently it was coming from the very front of the engine, down low and being blown around by the fan.

“Looks like you blew a seal, Mike,” I said.

“Leave my personal life outta this,” he replied. {Rimshot}

Another Technical Aside: Oil is stored in the oil pan. It is sucked into the oil pump and sent directly to the crankshaft under high pressure, and then to other parts of the engine. There are the aforementioned seals at the back and front to keep all that oil inside. If one of them fails, it makes a big mess. If you don’t detect it in time, the “OIL” light on the dash will illuminate signaling that you’ll be stopping on the way home to buy a new engine. Because when that light comes on at speed, it is usually too late. Be warned! They don’t call them “idiot lights” for nuthin’. You’re an idiot if you let one of them come on.

Luckily for Mike, we detected the leak before all of the oil puked out. Again I went to the shop manual. Turns out that to change this part is not hard. You take everything on the front of the engine off, pry the old seal out with a screwdriver, press a new one in, then put everything on the front of the engine back on. Easy as cake!

The NAPA parts store here in Brewster does not stock the part, of course. And this was the Fourth of July weekend to boot, so even if they ordered it on Sunday, Tuesday would be the soonest it would get here. Maybe Wednesday. Fortunately Brandon, one of our pilots was over in Seattle picking up his girlfriend at the SEA-TAC airport. Using the mighty powers of the internet, we found a NAPA store in Seattle that actually had the $10.00 part in stock. A quick call to Brandon elicited a promise to pick it up before he made the four-hour drive back to Brewster. And that’s just how it worked. Brandon got back Sunday evening.

Mike started working on the car around 10 a.m. on Monday morning. The job went pretty well…only…one whole hour was wasted due to just one glitch. The picture in the manual showed four small bolts holding the front pulley on when in reality there were five. Both Mike and I thought that fifth “bolt” was just a locating dowel or something. D’OH! Once we (he) got that off the job went 1,2,3. As usual, Mike did all the very dirty work while I stood around and helped…err, watched (read: kept my hands clean).

And fortunately, he’s done most of this very job before. To do the timing belt, the only thing he did not take off which he had to this time is one little sprocket on the front of the crankshaft to expose the leaking seal. Even with the wasted hour, he was all done well before five o’clock, which I think is amazing. He had the car buttoned up and test-driven in plenty of time to get himself cleaned up and drive to a Fourth of July dinner party. Then again, he is a pretty good mechanic. Me, I’m a pretty good stand-around-and-watcherer.

I wish all of my breakdowns were this easy. They’re not. When my cars break, they go on the back of a flatbed and mechanics charge me a whooooole lot of money to fix them.

Mike must live under one hell of a lucky star.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Oh how I envy people who can work on cars. I'm more in that school of tow-me-away and let me know the damage.

Not to mention it makes for good storytelling.