The great dream of the amateur mechanic is to someday use his or her skills to instantly transform a worthless pile of junk into a working vehicle. For one Jalopnik reader, that dream came true.
One of my Army friends here in Germany once asked me to drive him to go see a Ford Sierra that was being advertised for $300. The car "didn't start" and had been sitting for at least three weeks like that.
We got on site and saw the car, a plain Sierra with a 1.6 engine. No rust but paint was looking worn, mismatched tires, interior OK. High mileage and some oil stains around the engine. The battery was dead, but we jumped it with my Saab 9-5, and the Sierra would turn but not start. Either no fuel or no spark. My buddy offered the owner, another US soldier, $150 on the spot for the car. The guy agreed, money and paper exchanged hands, and we went to work.
We pulled out the spark plugs that were wet from attempting to start the car. There was fuel. We dried the plugs with shop towels and re-installed them. We pulled each spark plug lead until we found the lead from the coil to the distributor was loose! We installed it correctly, then attempted another start and voilà! The old Ford started up on the third try.
The idle was really rough, and a nasty looking black smoke was coming from the exhaust, a by product of all that gasoline in the cylinders and exhaust pipes. I started looking and listening around the carburetor to see if there was any vacuum lines missing, and sure enough I heard a sucking sound from some metal line by the carburetor, its end barb looking shiny. We both looked around the whole engine bay until we found another shiny looking metal barb without a hose. We removed a length of rubber line from the windshield spray system, blew the fluid out, and installed it where the vacuum line should have been. The idle instantly got smooth.
I kinda felt bad for the previous owner as he stood there and saw his $150 car turn into a $800 car in a few minutes, but it had already sold and wasn't his anymore. My buddy drove off on his new beater, and I followed him to the vehicle inspection site, where the inspector found out it needed two new tie rods, a battery, rear license plate lights, one headlight bulb, and four tires.
My buddy got four used tires for 70 Euro on a German junk yard, and the two tie rods, the battery, and the bulbs for the plate lights and headlights on a junk Sierra on the same yard for 20 Euro. That night he installed the tie rods by doing the tread count method on his apartment parking lot, and the following day got the car to pass inspection.
This was over a year ago. He still daily drives that Sierra.
Is there a greater feat that a regular wrencher can accomplish?
Photo Credit: 731132