Last night, I spent three hours freezing my ass off in a rainy, windy department store parking lot because a simple repair job turned into a nightmare.
Look at that picture above, and you’ll have a decent idea of the mess I was in. I had just asked my friend to come over to my house to film an intro video for my new $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, when he told me his girlfriend had texted him about some car troubles.
He decided to leave to Ann Arbor to help her out, so I volunteered to join. We hopped into his Buick Roadmaster, and after an hour in the Magic Carpet-Smooth wagon, we arrived at a Meijer department store, where his girlfriend’s 2003 Saturn Ion sat.
We were there to replace a failed ball joint, which my friend says he had replaced months before with an admittedly cheap part he’d bought from Rock Auto. “But it’s literally just a couple bolts; we’ll be done in like, 10 minutes,” he told me after I said I had to be back at a reasonable hour to write The Morning Shift.
The ball joint took a while to remove, because we had to get the control arm in the right orientation for it to slide out of the hole on the knuckle—this required jacking the knuckle up by the bottom of the rotor to compress the spring.
But that really wasn’t a big deal, and neither was bolting the new ball joint to the control arm. The real issue was trying to get the damn knuckle in the right position so we could slot the ball stud into it. It felt like the strut was fighting us, and pushing the knuckle outboard, away from the stud.
After about an hour and a half of wrenching, our night got worse. Much worse.
While moving the knuckle around, we accidentally ripped the inner CV joint out of its housing, which was still affixed to the transmission. Grease leaked all over the parking lot, as the shaft dangled from the knuckle, oozing black fluid. Getting the boot back onto the housing proved fruitless, so we just yanked the shaft (you can see it in the photo above just below the rotor).
After my friend tried desperately for a another hour to get that damn CV joint back into its housing—to no avail—he and his girlfriend, both of whom were freezing their butts off in the rain, said it was time to grab a tow truck. The mood was somber, and I could tell my friend—who drove all the way out there to help his girlfriend out—was a bit embarrassed.
I told my buddy to take a little break, so I could have a closer look at the situation—sometimes a fresh set of eyes can make all the difference. And it did this time.
I pulled the rubber boot back, slapped some bearing grease on the joint (it’s all Meijer had), wiggled the knuckle around just so, and watched the inner CV joint slide back into its housing. My friend used a zip-tie to fasten the boot into place, bolted the rest of the suspension up, and—after jump-starting the car (I had left the lights on)—finally the Saturn was fixed.
By the end of it, it was late, all three of us were were wet and cold, and my friend and I were aching from the three-hour unforeseen wrenching shitshow. But his girlfriend was happy her car was fixed, my friend breathed a sigh of relief, and I was just glad to get to play with some Red ‘N Tacky multi-purpose grease.
This is just one of my many small repair jobs that have turned into disasters; now let’s hear your stories about easy fixes gone wrong.