Trying 'Intermediate' Car Repair Again Was (Of Course) Harder Than Expected

Illustration for article titled Trying Intermediate Car Repair Again Was (Of Course) Harder Than Expected
Photo: Andrew P Collins

I think I figured out a solution to my problem of “not wanting to be in my dark and gross garage.” I’m just going to start dismantling my cars and bringing them into my apartment one piece at a time! Who else is trying to squander their July 4th staycation getting greasy with a needy automobile?

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I’d love to hear about what you’re working on in the comment section. I’ll start us off.

After briefly considering selling my Z, I ended up deciding to keep it. Primarily as a souvenir of my past lives, and also as an opportunity to boost my mechanical skills and get more practical experience in car repair. Also: clean Z31s are selling for actual money all of a sudden?

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About a month ago, my 300ZX suddenly starting idling like garbage and belching smoke. After researching the problem, learning to read the ancient onboard diagnostic system, and talking to people in various Z31 Facebook groups, it seemed like my cylinder head temperature sensor had failed and that a good solution was to install a replacement one from a 1995 Pathfinder in a blocked-off threaded port near the fuel injectors. (This way, it’d be easier to access later and theoretically provide a more accurate reading.)

It was a very simple retrofit, and after a few minutes of labor, the new CHTS was installed. Seconds later, the car was running great!

But while I was in there, I could see that the valve covers appeared to be weeping oil. No worries, valve cover gaskets are typically pretty straightforward to replace, I told myself. I thought that changing them out would be a good way to get some wrench time with the car and an easy project with it.

I hadn’t really taken on many multi-day car projects since mulching my hand in 2018, so while I sort of know what I’m supposed to be doing, I have a long way to go as far as becoming “a good mechanic.” In other words, I might have been kind of OK at one point but I’m well and truly rusty and need some proverbial PB Blaster. (Mechanic pun!)

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As I started digging my way to the driver’s side one valve cover, I realized, no, what seemed like a few simple steps in the Haynes manual actually involved messing with a lot of brittle old hoses, electrical connectors, and one impossibly fused intake plenum gasket. Of course it did. This, as you may well know, is always the way.

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It took days of wiggling and rubber malleting to get the intake plenum off my Nissan VG engine’s intake manifold, and naturally, the gasket was baked on like a stick of butter that’d been on a heated saucepan for weeks.

By the time I got to the valve cover, someone in one of the 300ZX Facebook groups I’m in offered: “Did you try just tightening the valve cover screws?”

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Dudes, dudettes, you know I didn’t think of that. So with the plenum removed, I tried tightening the screws. And you guessed it: they were loose enough to spin between a thumb and finger. Sigh.

Anyway, of course, now the plenum gasket needs to be removed so a new one can be put in its place, so I’ve been chewing on that with a range of scrapers and chemicals for a couple of days. (Thanks for the tips, those of you who have given them on various social media platforms!)

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As for the valve cover gasket, if I were smart I’d replace them anyway, but I would still need to remove the alternator bracket and that stumped me for a couple of days by itself.

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Meanwhile, my wife wants us to move soon so I really have to hustle to get this car back together so it can get loaded onto a trailer and be shipped someplace. (Hopefully, someplace with a heated garage I don’t despite standing in.)

When I get wherever I’m going, I’ll have more time and room to revisit things and do them properly. It’ll be a hell of a lot easier pulling the intake plenum off a second time, anyway.

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So. That little vent felt good... why don’t you try it and share your troubles with tools!

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik | 1975 International Scout, 1984 Nissan 300ZX, 1991 Suzuki GSXR, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, 2005 Acura TL

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So a £3 inlet manifold gasket went bad and was leaking coolant....