How A Quick Repair Turns Into A Parking Lot Mechanic Quagmire

Illustration for article titled How A Quick Repair Turns Into A Parking Lot Mechanic Quagmire

It was supposed to be an easy fix.

My goal was simple: change the pads and rotors on my old ‘73 Baja Bug. It sounded like my car had a stomach ache. The front had been groaning and creaking for weeks now, and I couldn’t put things off any longer. As it turns out, your brake pads should not look like this.

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Illustration for article titled How A Quick Repair Turns Into A Parking Lot Mechanic Quagmire

Buying the parts wasn’t too bad (except when they got shipped to the wrong address and then had to be re-mailed back to me), and I set aside an easy sunday afternoon to figure out how to do the job.

I had two books explaining how to swap out my old parts for new, and I was reasonably confident things would go smoothly.

I’d changed pads and rotors before on my dearly departed wheezer of a Lexus ES300. Freddy and I didn’t even use a manual for it. We just found whatever held the caliper in place, unbolted it, found whatever held the rotor in place, unbolted it, and then replaced the offending parts.

But the Lexus was built at the very highest point in mainstream automotive industrial manufacturing. Toyota Motor Corporation, blooming in the peak the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Japanese economic bubble, invested impossibly heavily on the construction of vehicles just like my ‘93 Lex. Every bolt was extra long, every system designed for durability and use.

My ‘73 Bug wasn’t designed to be used so much as manufactured.

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So while the brake rotor on my Lexus was just a brake rotor, the one on my VW also houses the front wheel bearings.

Illustration for article titled How A Quick Repair Turns Into A Parking Lot Mechanic Quagmire
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I discovered this over a number of confused phone calls to my coworker an VW expert Jason Torchinsky. Wait, why does the old rotor have these weird rings in it? What’s are ‘races,’ and why do you keep saying that word?

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This then led to some fevered re-reading of my technical manuals. There’s a pin here. The book doesn’t say anything about any pins. Oh, so chapter nine section 12 tells me absolutely nothing except to refer to chapter one section 32? I’m supposed to put an allen key where?

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So instead of quickly unbolting and rebolting my old parts for new, I ended up attempting to press in new bearings and races with nothing but a big screwdriver and a not-so-big hammer. Several hours into that and the light started to fade, the rain threatened to come in, and I called things quits.

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I sandwich bagged all my extracted bolts and labelled where they came from, I trash bagged the whole exposed wheel so that my spindle doesn’t get wet, and I packed it in for the night.

Why is it that every time I try and fix a little thing wrong with my car, I discover that I’ve got something else that I need to replace?

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Illustration for article titled How A Quick Repair Turns Into A Parking Lot Mechanic Quagmire

Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove

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Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.

DISCUSSION

DoctorNine

This episode highlights a few important facts about car repair.

1.) Nothing ever goes as smoothly as is theoretically possible. Plan for this.

2.) When in parking lots, spread out towels. Always know where your towel is.

3.) Every car has a soul, and doing repairs is a meditative practice which allows you to reach a harmony with your machine that is both physical and spiritual. All early attempts at repair of its various systems will be spurned by your machine, until it is certain that you love it, and understand its needs. From then on, it is an intricate dance of alternating supplication and exhortation, wherein you feed your machine parts, fluids, and sometimes even your own blood, until the bond is complete, and that machine is well and truly YOURS.

4.) Under no circumstances ever imagine that you can FORCE your car to do anything. This is the surest way to break that bond, and once again, you will be required to sacrifice parts and fluids in order to get into its good graces. If you are lucky. And it lets you.

I mention these things only as a guide, from an old mechanic with experience on cars, bikes, motorcycles, and various species of boats. Take it for what its worth. YMMV.