One of the things my Pao has needed from the day I got it was a new set of front shocks. The ones on the car were totally shot, making all kinds of scary clunking noises and ending every speed bump with a jarring BANG that made me wet my pants, just a little squirt, every time. So, I finally did something about it, and with the help of a friend with a garage and lift and air tools, I’m now ruined for doing car repairs the miserable way I’ve always done them.
Intellectually, I’ve always known that of course having good equipment and tools and space makes a big difference, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really felt that as much as I did yesterday, when I did this job.
I’m used to working on my cars on my gravel driveway, with cars on jackstands and with mostly just hand tools. While this has mostly gotten the job done, I now realize how much longer and more miserable every little job I’ve done has been, compared to the glory of a Real Garage.
My friend Andy King has such a garage, which he uses to fabricate custom motorcycles and fix old BMWs and that sort of exciting thing. There’s a lift in there, and a floor that’s not made of thousands of sharp, bitter rocks, and a roof that blocks not just the scorching rays of the sun, but also droplets of water that get flung from the sky all too often out here, in this state that feels like Dagobah.
A lift changes everything when you’re working or even just looking under your car, and it gives you a such an easy way to really inspect the underside of your car, an act that, without a lift, is at best not easy and at worst a filthy, painful encounter with oil, gravel, and filth.
I was happy to see that my Pao’s underbelly looks pretty good and rust-free! Look at those neatly organized brake lines, and you can even see the shift linkage from down here.
And the air tools! Using an impact wrench to remove bolts that haven’t moved in maybe decades is so gloriously easy it feels like cheating. It always seems like a solid 75 percent of the time I spend trying to fix any car involves me fighting desperately with some sort of stuck bolt. That just wasn’t an issue this time, and it was glorious.
You pull the trigger, and the bolts just...come off. I know we all know that’s how these things work, but it still delights me.
As far as the repair itself goes, the Pao is proving to be a remarkably easy car to work on. The look of the car already makes a point of exposing fasteners and other hardware by design, which certainly helps for the Pao-specific body parts, and the mechanicals are similarly straightforward and basic, being based on Nissan’s old K10 Micra econobox.
Unlike other weird cars I’ve had in the past, getting parts for the Pao, even though it never actually came to America, isn’t proving so bad. Some stuff is parts-bin Nissan that did come here, and other stuff, like the suspension parts I needed, can be gotten from nearby Canada, which did get those old Micras.
The front suspension system of the Pao is about as simple as you can get, really. Here’s pretty much all of it:
I just needed to replace the shock or the strut or whatever you want to call it, which I’ve shown in orange there.
The struts are pretty hilariously tiny when you compare them to other car’s shocks. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve had hoagies bigger than the box these things came in.
Getting the car on a lift made access to everything so much easier; instead of struggling below the car on some jackstands, you can raise the whole thing up so you can get easy access to everything while sitting or standing. I mean, I know that’s the whole raison d’être of a lift, but it never hurts to really be reminded of that.
When you get the bolts off the lower shock mount, the hub assembly drops down, and I’m all but certain I’d have let it drop right into my face if I was lying under the car like I usually am.
There’s only four bolts that hold the strut assembly onto the car: the two vertical ones at the base that connect to the lower control arm/wheel hub, and two up top, where the shock tower mounts to the unibody.
Once the assembly is out, you have to use a spring compressor to get the strut out from inside the coil spring. Springs under compression are holding a lot of scary energy that could, if you’re not careful, discharge a spring right through your chest, but the compressor is a simple and straightforward thing to use.
Just don’t, you know, drop a spring held in a compressor, or anything. That’d probably be bad.
Once you get the spring compressed and off, you just reverse it for the new strut: put the new spring on, bolt the little top hat back on, remove the compressor, shove the coil-and-strut back up into the upper mounting holes, get that bolted in, then bolt the lower shock mount to the hub assembly, and, boom, you’re done. Rinse and repeat for the other side.
I was surprised how easy and quick the whole thing was; the hardest part involved, as usual, a little metal clip. This clip held the brake line in place on the strut, and was an absolute monster to get back in place. But I’ve yet to find a little automotive metal clip that didn’t hate humanity and thirst for its sweet, sweet blood.
It’s astounding how much better the car drives now. Those old shocks were doing absolutely nothing—I pumped the shaft in and out to confirm and, yes, there was zero resistance. I was riding on just springs, really.
The new shocks do exactly what they should—absorb shock—and they make the ride quieter and smoother, the handling is better, braking is better because there’s no more nose dive under braking, it feels like a new car.
Why did I wait so long to take care of this? Because I’m a fool. Don’t be like me—if your shocks are shot, replace them! Even better, find a friend with a real garage to replace them in! Just stay away from Andy—this one is mine.