Hate bloody knuckles? Of course you do. What if we told you there was a way around 'em? Here are ten car repairs that won't make you loathe yourself — or some random engineer — in the morning.
Yesterday's Question of the Day asked for car parts with simple and straightforward repairs. Today, we present you with a list of stuff virtually guaranteed to keep your elbows clean and sanity intact. This is by no means a definitive list; it's simply the first ten items we and the commentariat could think of. There are easier jobs and more idiot-proof fixes, but these are the ones we've encountered the most. Got more? Add 'em in the comments.
Car: Saab 900
Year: 1978 - 1993
Job: Clutch replacement.
Why: Awesomely simple and mind-bogglingly weird at the same time. The 900's inline four drives the front wheels, but it's mounted longitudinally and — get this — backwards. Translation: The engine looks like it would in a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive car, but everything is reversed. The water pump and belt-driven accessories are up against the firewall, mere inches from your feet. The flywheel and clutch are right behind the radiator. And somewhere, a Swedish engineer is laughing his meatballs off.
For all intents and purposes, a clutch swap on a 900 is brainless. You don't have to pull the transmission, get that dirty, or even jack up the car. Remove some intake plumbing, yank a handful of bolts on the clutch cover, and the clutch is right there, staring you in the face. The hardest part of the job is compressing the pressure plate's fingers for assembly and cramming the whole thing between the A/C fan and flywheel. If you're an idiot, it takes a couple of hours. Geniuses can pull it off in forty minutes or less. Makes Billy the bookcase and every Ikea instruction manual ever printed look like rocket science.
Want a quick how-to? Check here.
(Photo Credit: Hemmings)
Car: Late-model BMW/Volkswagen/some GM products, others.
Job: Oil change.
Why: God bless the top-down oil change. Most people think BMW is responsible for this, but the Munich madmen didn't invent the clean filter swap, they just popularized it. No reaching between a frame rail and a greasy engine block. No spilling a glorp of oil on your shoes when you unscrew the filter. Pull a cap, lift out the filter cartridge, stick a new one in, replace the o-ring, and boom — you're done. All that's left is to drain the sump and refill the oil.
If you get dirty doing this, you probably shouldn't leave the house alone. Wait —have you gotten dirty doing this? Who let you on the internet? Does your mom know you're at the library? Them books with naked ladies in 'em are fer adults!
(Photo Credit: E90Post)
Car: Any air-cooled Volkswagen.
Year: 1938 - 2003 (Mexican Beetles, remember?)
Job: Removing a driveline and doing just about anything else.
Why: Fan belts changed in moments. Engine swaps in less time than it takes to make a nice dinner. (Thirty minutes if you're a rube; ninety seconds if you're not.) You can lift the engine and transmission out of the car while kneeling. Back when dinosaurs ran free and Richard Nixon roamed the earth, Volkswagen shops hosted contests to see who could change a Beetle engine the quickest. Legendarily simple. Astonishingly well-built. Could make Julia Child look like a master wrench, even if she was drunk on cooking sherry.
Runner-Up: The same set of jobs on a Citroen 2CV. Like the Beetle, the deux cheveaux's engine is air-cooled and horizontal, but it sports two cylinders instead of four. Sadly, because the engine is built strong like French bull (no gaskets, hair-splitting tolerances, no oil leaks, hugely understressed), you almost never have to do anything to it.
Car: Mazda Miata
Year: 1989 - 1997
Job: You name it.
Why: The first-generation Miata is the holy triumvirate of fix-it goodness: The car is Japanese, everything on it is tiny, and the whole package was deliberately designed to be as simple as possible. The differential is the size of an overgrown orange and weighs little more than a loaf of bread. The radiator makes a box of Kleenex feel hefty. There isn't an abundance of space, but almost everything is easy to reach and intelligently laid out. Race teams — Runoffs winners to LeMons stars and everyone in between — have rebuilt these things in dirt paddocks in less time than it takes us to decide what we want for lunch. (Mmm, orangey ring and pinion.)
(Photo Credit: Bimmerwerkz Forum)
Car: Anything with pin-style Ate calipers (BMWs, Porsches, many others).
Year: Varies, but usually 1960s/70s.
Job: Brake pad replacement.
Why: Ever had to disassemble a brake caliper just to change its pads? Ever wrestled with the inboard discs on an old-school Jaguar? Neither is really a difficult task, but the Ate caliper (the name is a mash-up of Alfred Teves, the company's founder) makes most production-car pad swaps seem like brain surgery. Step one: remove wheel. Step two: tap out two retaining pins and lift off a spring clip. Step three: lift out pads. Reassembly is the reverse of removal, only you don't need to be sober to get it right.
Random History Tidbit: Ate, now part of Continental Teves AG, was one of the first proponents of the hydraulic (as in, not operated by cables and rods) brake. In typically Swabian fashion, the company's early logo was composed of a piston ring, a hammer, and a stylized fist. Ja! Kriegsmechaniker!
Car: Almost any front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Honda.
Year: 1984 - Present
Job: The hell-raising engine swap.
Why: Ever wondered why everyone and their trailer-park-dwelling brother can cram a random Big-H four into their Honda Civic? Simple: By and large, Honda engines are like Legos, and you can have one out of the car in less time than it takes to crack open a jug of Engine Fix-It In A Can.
The portability of these things is legendary, as is the Honda community's commendable willingness to take advantage of it. Rod knock? Swap a motor. Valves a bit clackety? Swap a motor. Air filter dirty? Swap a motor. The whole process is helped by the fact that things like B-series fours (the so-called "powerhouse" of the Honda tuning scene) are a dime a dozen, and that they fill up every wrecking yard from here to Siberia. (The drawing at left is of the largely unloved D-series, specifically, the unit found in the second-generation CRX Si. We included it because it's most often what people yank out.)
Car: Citroen ID/DS
Year: 1955 - 1975
Job: Replacing a rear fender.
Why: One bolt. Because the rear fenders on an ID and DS are so gloriously spatty, you have to pull the fender to change a tire. Thankfully, this is simpler than it sounds. The rear of each fender is held on with a single bolt located just above the rear reflector; remove this bolt, and the panel swings out and lifts off. A few locating pins and some clever thinking ensure that the assembly doesn't go anywhere when bolted down. Cheese, Versailles, and the Citroen DS: All hail frog genius. We want to be Andre Lefebvre when we grow up.
Car: Anything with a Ford nine-inch rear end (Mustangs, Fairlanes, a zillion others).
Job: Swapping drive ratios.
Why: If you've got a few parts prepped, the Ford nine-inch offers what is possibly the quickest in-car final-drive swap ever. The nine-inch is front-loading and modular, so changing a ring and pinion is as easy as sliding out the drive axles, removing the front cover, pulling out the "third member" (the gear assembly), and sliding another, preassembled one in. Figure on an hour if you're lazy and there's nothing in the way.
Random Tech Tidbit: Ford's eight-inch diff shares the nine-inch's design and operates in the same manner.
Want a quick how-to? Check here.
Car: Any random American sled or muscle car.
Year: Pick a year. Any year. As long as you're before the era of snakes-nest emissions plumbing, you're fine.
Why: Carburetor swaps in ten minutes, thanks to a dearth of plumbing. Transmission swaps in under an hour, thanks to wide tunnels and lots of working space. Belts and ignition parts can be changed in less time than it takes to wind your watch (and if you're driving carbureted American hotness, you need a clockwork watch). V-8 models have acres of underhood room, and anything with an in-line motor offers more between-the-fenders space than a New York City apartment. Remove a fan shroud and the odd hose or two, and you can often stand between the engine and radiator. God bless America.
Car: Jaguar E-Type V-12
Year: 1971 - 1975
Job: Clutch replacement.
Why: Ha! Kidding. This is one of the most miserable repair experiences I've ever had, and writing this list, I couldn't get its oil-soaked memory out of my brain. This is my way of purging.
Long story short: I once helped a friend do a clutch on a '74 V-12 roadster. By the time we were half done, I wanted to drink a bottle of 90-weight and go die in a corner. The engine is the size of Wyoming (and weighs twice as much), and it has to come out to replace the clutch. The transmission is crammed into a hole approximately one millimeter larger than its exterior dimensions. There are twenty — yes, twenty — radiator hoses. Half the wiring harness is shoved into the engine's vee, which means that it bakes itself silly during operation and often disintegrates when you try to disconnect it. Yecch.
Fittingly, a V-12 E-Type is nowhere near as entertaining or attractive as a six-cylinder one, which means that when you are done with said clutch job, you spend the rest of the afternoon drinking beer and trying to figure out why you bothered with the damn gig in the first place. If there is a hell, it is populated with too-short jack stands, leaking engine hoists, and twelve-cylinder E-Types. God save the queen. God no save this.
(If you want a real answer, let's just say anything on an XJ-series Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee may predate the industrial revolution, but it was built like a tank and offers acres of space around everything. But that's nowhere near as much fun, is it?)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / geognerd)