Saturday, November 7, 2009

Workin' on the car

I left a rather cryptic status update on FaceBook last night: "Not exactly what I wanted to do tomorrow..." or something to that effect. Here's what happened: when we got home from the potluck, there were billows of steam coming from under the hood of the car. It overheats periodically (more momentarily) but never like that. When I popped the hood, there was coolant everywhere. Initially I thought a hose had broken, but it was too dark to really tell, even with a flashlight. So, the conclusion to my status update was that I was going to have to work on the car today.

Now, some background. This section will be rather technical in nature, so if you don't know about cars, or if such things bore you, feel free to skip a few paragraphs for the conclusion. Warning over. On with the background: some months ago, I noticed the car was running hot if allowed to idle for any length of time; running the speed up helped it cool off. It kept getting worse, and eventually, a friend helped me diagnose it as a bad thermostat. By the way, I really was missing my dad around then... he'd have diagnosed it much more quickly.

So, I went ahead and changed the thermostat. After all, I could get to it easily, there was really nothing in the way, should have been super-simple. Of course not. Ford decided to use a t-stat housing with three bolts on this engine (why? idk. Maybe because the housing is vertical? Maybe because it's not one of Fjord's better designed models?), one of which is directly on the bottom of the housing. The top two bolts came out fine, maybe a little stiff, but nothing major. The bottom bolt (of course) snapped when I tried to take it out. I was very careful, but it did it anyway. I RTV'd the crap out of the gasket, crossed my fingers, and put the two bolts back in. It had a minor leak, but no big deal. Of course, the leak got worse, because it didn't occur to me to re-tighten the bolts after a while to account for gasket compression. So, we needed to constantly replenish the coolant, but instead of checking the levels regularly, lazy me just did it when it overheated.

This brings us to last night. A combination of having to run the defroster (which, on this car, automatically runs the A/C system, which has a leaky valve and thus no freon, so that heats the system up worse) and driving briefly on the freeway on a cold, damp night evidently made the gasket finally rip. I didn't notice any blown hoses, so here's hoping. Anyway, on to today.

I figured this would be my opportunity to go ahead and pull the rest of that broken bolt, particularly now that we have a second vehicle (that was one of the main reasons I didn't try to the first time - no way to go anywhere to get a bolt). So, I pulled the thermostat housing, then realized I needed space to get to the bolt. That necessitated removing the (distributorless) ignition from the end of the forward head, which required removing another bracket, which also had to be unbolted from a TVS, etc etc. Finally, I had the way cleared. I began considering what tools I had, finally concluding that I had no EZ-Outs, nor even any vise grips. Well, I had to go to Kragen anyway to get coolant and hopefully the bolts I needed.

So I washed up, stuck a bolt in my pocket, climbed into the truck, and went to Kragen (which, by the way, is about to officially become O'Reilly). That experience is a story of its own, which I will not share here in the interest of brevity (I know, too late). I was able to find everything I needed, spending more money than I wanted/planned in the process, so I came on home. On arriving home, it took me nearly two hours, several trips up and down the stairs (our apartment is upstairs), and a great deal of frustration to discover that I could not, no matter what I tried, get that stupid expletive-deleted bolt body out of its hole. The vise grips just ripped metal from the outside of the bolt; the ez-out just ripped metal from the inside of the bolt. Somebody probably crossed it up when they put it in, and then it proceeded to rust in place.

So I put everything together as best I could, put 2 gallons of coolant (mixed, of course) in, cleaned up a little, and went for a test drive. It seemed to be fine. I got home, popped the hood to double-check everything, and discovered I'd gone and left the lid off the coolant tank. Praise God, nothing happened; I put it back on and closed the hood. My wife said it was fine on the way to work. I'll check everything in the morning. This time, I'll keep an eye on the coolant and re-check the bolts periodically.

The point: I do not like working on cars. It makes me angry, frustrated, tired, and inflicts physical pain and discomfort on me. I know this. I knew this going in. "So what," you may be asking. Well, some time ago, Pastor Dane preached a sermon on the armor of God, and challenged us to pray each piece on every day for a week. I've been doing it since then, at least during the week. I tend to forget on the weekends; I forgot today.

Satan is an opportunist. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe he's omni-anything or that he truly has power over a Christian unless we give it to him. A lot of what we attribute to him is simply human nature, such as the consequences of our own laziness or bad self-image. However, I do think he uses our natural tendencies to push us. Here's what I mean: Say you make a mistake, not even necessarily a big one, just a mistake. That first little voice you hear, saying "You are such an idiot! Why do you do stupid things like that?" is, in my opinion, Satan (or his minion) whispering in your ear to get you to respond, "Man, I am an idiot! Why the heck do I always do that kind of dumb stuff?" You are not an idiot, and you do not always do dumb stuff. The prompt is the enemy; the response is human nature.

Back to my story. The impetus: I couldn't remove the bolt body no matter what I tried; not my fault. I broke it off in the first place, but it snapped at a level of pressure that does not normally break bolts --- weak bolt+poor installation = still not my fault. Today's prompt: "I can't believe you couldn't get that bolt out. You should have made sure it never broke in the first place; now what if you made it worse? This is why you should never work on cars. You always screw it up." And I started to buy that! I started to recite it, to believe it myself. Then I finally realized it wasn't my fault!! I didn't screw up! I did everything I could --- it just was beyond my abilities with the tools I have. I did everything right, even last time --- it's just one of those things that happen.

So here's the bottom line. PRAY!! Pray on God's armor every day, even the weekends. Given what it's done for me on weekdays, I firmly believe it would have helped today; I wouldn't have gotten so angry and frustrated, and I wouldn't have so readily bought the lies. On top of that, pray when you have to do something that you know makes you upset, or sad, or frustrated, or whatever. God will help you with that. If I had called on Him before I started, or really at any point in the process (other than "God, please make this work!"), my experience would have been better.

Will I ever enjoy working on cars? Not unless everything goes right, I have all the right tools, and I'm doing something I want to do instead of something I have to do. Will I continue working on them when what needs doing is something I can do? Yes --- but I'm sure as heck gonna pray first!!!!!

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