Monday, August 11, 2014

Old News: Low-Budget Repairs for the Wagon

In February of 2012, months after my father handed the Sable wagon to me, he drove it to work one day and was softly T-boned by a drunk driver on the way home.  Luckily it happened at a very low speed and pretty much nothing happened, except for this:

After thirteen years of taking such good care of the car, it was scarred by a drunk guy in a Ford Ranger.  

Dad told me to wait until spring break to repair the car so in the meantime, I had to drive around with this embarrassing wrinkle in the door as if it was my doing.  Thankfully, the door and window still worked perfectly.  

After reading about how to disassemble a Taurus door, I decided to take my door apart after school one day.  All I had to do was to undo the screw at the bottom of the place you grab to close the door and then pry off the black piece behind the door handle.  I then used plastic auto trim crowbars to find each of the Christmas tree fittings and pry them loose.

I wasn't able to take photos of this part, but my father essentially stuck pieces of wood behind the inner door panel through the holes and I hammered away on the handle of a plunger.  That was the best we could get it with our rudimentary tools.  When I prepared for painting, Dad wanted me to just mask off a small square where the sheet metal had creased and cracked the paint, but I didn't want to end up with a dark square.  Metallic paint has a way of doing that.

The dark square as described above, and there are worse examples on the minivan.  This is the way my dad repairs paint.  

My finished product.  Notice how there are no edges on the new paint even though it's foggy.  The dent on the front of the rear wheel arch looks smooth in this photo but in reality, the metal was too thick for me to have any effect on it.  

It's not pictured here, but weeks after the drunk driver accident, my dad and our neighbor across the street accidentally backed into each other so there's a big dent below the right tail light that I have been unable to fix.

Summer 2013.  The circular ring to the left of the shiny hose clamp was supposed to hold the flexible mesh in place, but the welds rusted away as they usually do on these Tauruses.  I didn't pull the hose clamp far enough to the left to stop the ring from ringing around at certain engine speeds, but at least the mesh is secure.  It sounds like I'm dragging a chain when weaving around town at 10-15 mph.  

In the summer of 2013, I was going to a friend's house when all of a sudden, my brake pedal went to the floor.  One of the brake lines blew out near the middle of the car but since the car has only one master cylinder, the entire brake system lost its pressure.  It luckily happened in the neighborhood where I wasn't going fast at all, so I limped home using only the parking brake.  The Michigan road salt had taken its toll on the un-coated steel brake lines.  On the picture to the right, rusty debris is visible below the car; the rockers were in such bad shape that they rained down rust flakes when I knocked on the plastic covers.  Since then, the rocker on the right side of the car has completely disintegrated.

My original plan was to replace the entire line but as luck would have it, the broken line was the one that reached all the way to the opposite corner of the car, the right rear wheel.  Dad talked some sense into me and we just replaced the broken section, using a steel line cutter.  The sections of line that were covered by the black epoxy were in perfect shape. I wonder why the entire line wasn't just coated.

It's not shown here, but a few feet down the line from the epoxy-coated section, we found a place that was strong enough.  I sanded that as round and smooth as I could so it could make a good seal.

My dad bought a roll of coated steel line (1/8 inch if I remember correctly) and I cheated and used compression fittings to hook it up.  I know that the proper way to repair a brake line is to flare it, but I read stories from people who had used compression fittings with good results and Dad didn't want to spend more money on a car that he thought was about to break anyway.  One year later, it looks like the compression fittings are holding up and the car still stops well.  We'll just hope that emergency braking won't be necessary or else my repair might blow when it's most needed.

In the picture on the left, the brake bleeder screw has been ground down to the next wrench size because it was rusted shut and I stripped it trying to get it open.  This car had really good brakes to start with so they never had to be bled until now.  Actually, the only bleeder valve we could get open was the right rear valve, which luckily was the one that needed bleeding since that line was full of air.  It didn't feel like very much air, if any, got into the other lines anyway.  On the right are the pieces that were originally meant to secure the two rear brake lines but seeing that the leak originally came from that area, I think the piece actually trapped water and sped the rusting.  I left them off because the brake lines seemed pretty tightly mounted and the pieces wouldn't have fit over the compression fitting anyway.

The very afternoon that I fixed the brake line and tested it, my sister took it out for a drive with my father and I riding along.  Five miles away from home at the library downtown, the upper radiator hose blew up (center of picture) and puked coolant all over the ground so we left the car at the library for a few days to wait for the part to come in the mail.  After it came, my father and I brought tools, fixed it right there in the lot, and drove it home.  The "low coolant" light on the dashboard has been malfunctioning since then even though the coolant level is correct.  There might be a bubble around the sensor or something.

So far, all the repairs I have ever made are performing well while other parts of the car are starting to need attention.  Maybe it's time for some more redneck engineering technique ... what about a steel pole running the length of the car on the right side?