The News Tribune logo

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cars - There Are No Simple Jobs

I'm a mechanic. I'm a professional - I make my living turning wrenches. I work on specialized equipment involving aircraft. What I am not, is an auto mechanic. As a matter of fact, I hate working on cars.

Nothing held together with nuts, bolts and screws is ever easy to work on but cars seem to be in a special class of their own. Actually, I think auto manufacturers have a requirement that all engineers be Sadists and must take particular pleasure in making mechanics suffer.

Yesterday, my daughter came to me and told me she had a headlight out. She has a 2006 Dodge Stratus. "OK, No problem", I told her with great confidence. "Go to the auto parts store down the street and grab one and I'll have it in before you leave for work", I said.

So off she goes to the parts store and procures a new bulb and upon her return a few minutes later, I dragged out my trusty tool box to the curb and opened her hood.

OH...MY...GAWD! There was absolutely no way I was going to even get close to that headlamp without some major disassembly - or at least yanking out one or more perfectly good parts.

Inside the purple circle, underneath the metal, is where the headlamp resides. It's a standard Sylvania 9007 bulb, but the socket assembly is inaccessible to any hand larger than a three-year-old's. Inside the larger red circle is some kind of relay panel thingy with a heatsink bolted to it. That had to come out of there if I stood any chance at all of changing that bulb.

Only four screws hold the relay/heatsink thingy in place. No problem, except that one of those screws nearest the side of the engine compartment is not readily accessible. It was about this point that I let out a yell that would even make Howard Dean sound sane. My wife thought I hurt myself and came running out to check. The neighbors were looking to see if the hood had dropped on me.

It was definitely a scream of pain but it had the tiniest bit of rage mixed in. It was at this point that I was silently wishing bad things upon some design engineer. I prayed that his sleep would always be interrupted by a dream of him in a baseball cap hanging out a drive through window asking his customers if they wanted fries with that.

After a couple minutes of that delicious thought, reality set in. I had no choice. The daughter had to be to work in a half hour and that thingy was not going to move out of my way simply as a result of my primal screaming.

I got the first three screws out without too much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I carefully put them aside so I wouldn't drop them into some hidden crevice below.

After about 15 minutes and the chanting of numerous magic words (probably best not repeated on a family blog), I managed to get the last screw out and safely put aside. With a small sigh of relief, I carefully moved the relay/heatsink thingy out of the way -- almost. The cables coming in and out of it did not allow for much movement even after the thingy was liberated from it's mounting bracket. Fortunately, it was barely enough to get my hand in there so I could change the bulb.

With the bulb changed, I wanted to do a small victory dance while imagining it was on the top of the head of the aforementioned engineer, but I decided to hold off because as every mechanic knows, nothing goes in as easy as it comes out and this thingy didn't come out with much ease. And if I had any chance of getting it back together, I had to start with the last screw that came out or else I'd never get it in. I folded my wrist and hand (while holding the screw) into a position familiar only to professional contortionists or pretzel makers and used my other hand to try and hold everything still long enough to get the screw started.


It dropped. The screw dropped from my twisted fingers down into the abyss. When I first looked down, I was relieved. It looked like it was in a reachable spot and as I soon discovered,looks can be deceiving. I shoved my meat hook down to get it and then promptly bumped the screw down even further with my finger tips.

And to top all of this off, the daughter came out to inquire how much longer I would be as she needed to be to work in 10 minutes. I told her, in my best Scotty imitation (which is probably the world's worst), "I'll need at least a half an hour Captain! I'm givin' her all she's got!"

The wife handed her the keys to our van and the daughter handed her mother her keys. The daughter shouted a thank you for fixing her car to me as she sped off to work and as I stood staring into the bottom of the engine compartment hoping to catch a glimpse of that all important screw

I got down on my back and looked underneath. The bottom was covered by plastic panels and I had no idea where to start. I tapped the bottom panel and I could hear it rattling around, but in a couple of the small open spaces that I could cram my hand into, I couldn't feel it. More magic words flowed from lips!

If any of you have ever worked underneath the hood, you know that those plastic panels are snapped into place by these harder plastic fasteners. It seems that there would be better ways to hold them in place, but I'm sure that they don't meet the minimum level in the Sadist index. I managed to pop several off without wrecking them too badly and finally found the screw. I put everything back together again as best I could. Those plastic snaps never go back in quite as well as they did when they were new.

This time the screw was started and I finished up the job. I closed the hood and gathered up my tools.

There was no sense of victory, or achievement, or even accomplishment, just relief. Now, I had to hurry and get cleaned up because we were going over to some friends house for dinner.

As I stood in the shower scrubbing the dirt and grease off of my arms, hands and head, my thoughts again turned to the evil engineer that decided to block the access to the headlamps. This time my curse on him was even more malevolent. I wished that he would be broken down somewhere in a desert and be forced to repair his own car with nothing at his disposal but a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to yank out the necessary components in order to get to the part that requires replacement.

I can dream - can't I?



Stephanie Frieze said...

Your experience sounds very much like what my husband had with our Dodge Neon. He ended up breaking the housing for the headlight and having to take it to the dealer anyway. The day of the shade tree mechanic seems to be fading away. I find it sad.

JosephMcG said...

Thank you for helping me to laugh today... wonderful post, this is a keeper for your debut on Saturday Night Live...
Keep your imagination sparking

Kim Thompson said...

I think you have captured, quite nicely and humorously, people vs. machine!

VW said...

I'm glad you all enjoyed it. May your machines never break!


Lorraine Hart said...

I'm sorry you had such a hard time vhuwhu...but you had me rolling on the floor!

I do hope your poor hands feel better though.

M. Sugimura said...

Loved the writing! And while your impression of Scotty from Star Trek may not have convinced - from photographs of you that have appeared , I'd be willing to say (having seen him on several occasions as a Trek fan) you could go as Scotty to a convention and everyone would recognize the shall I say dashing resemblance between yourself and the late Canadian-born actor in his younger and more trimer days. Meanwhile, thank goodness for your alert spouse!