My Boy, The Mechanic

I’m so proud. My oldest son just finished fixing a car.

This was his first such adventure, even though he is nearly nineteen. A few weeks ago, the brakes were screeching something awful, and it was overheating, and he wanted to either junk it or get it fixed by a mechanic. Unfortunately, he had no money, so the mechanic idea wasn’t going to happen. I helpfully explained to him that he had two choices: (1) fix it himself, with some help from me and/or mechanic friends of his, or (2) walk.

He chose to fix it. Attaboy! Meet the challenge, and conquer it. Part of the training process for Manhood.

So we embarked on a little deductive reasoning adventure called “diagnosing an overheating engine”. I figured it was a thermostat stuck in the closed position, but to show him how I arrived at that conclusion, I did some Googling and found a few sites explaining how to diagnose exactly this problem on the same car. We warmed it up, checked that the temp gauge was on full warm, then felt the radiator hose that feeds into the engine at the thermostat housing, and it was not warm/hot, so the thermostat is stuck shut. Which is awesome, since thermostats are cheap.

The brakes, of course, being screechy, were already telling us what they needed: new pads. Rotors might be less than ideal, now, too; but it’s a 1998 Cavalier, so the whole vehicle is less than ideal. We’re happy if it doesn’t blow up, basically.

So I bought him the new (front) brake pads, which were only $20, and a new thermostat, about $6. And we put it up on jack stands. Two weeks later, it was still there, still in need of a thermostat and brake pads.

He needed some help from me, so I worked on getting the bolts out of the thermostat housing. It required an 8mm socket, but the only 8mm I had was a 1/4″ drive, which has a tiny handle and generates no tourque at all. I had to both buy and borrow my way out of this one, and finally was able to dislodge the rusty thing with an 8mm socket and a 3/8″ breaker bar.

Drain some antifreeze, try the new thermostat. Doesn’t fit in the housing. Couldn’t see THAT coming. Took it back, got the right one, replaced it and re-tightened the bolts.

The brakes apparently required a 9mm hex key, to remove the calipers, which I didn’t have in any of the three sets of hex keys I own. But of course.

So we embark on a mission to find a 9mm hex key. Not as easy as it sounds, but finally found one in a set (natch) at Sears Hardware, bought it, drove home, tried it. Doesn’t fit. Too small. Turns out, the right size was 3/8″, which is what I thought it might be, and had days before told him to try, expecting it to work. So I was surprised to find out that, according to him, it didn’t fit. Yet when I tried it, after all this effort involved to find the 9mm key, which then did not fit, the 3/8″ fit perfectly, and was obviously the exact right size. Duh.

Finally using the correct size hex key, he was able to get both front wheels done in one afternoon, even though he’d never done it before, by reading the manual his friend Dan had so considerately bought for him.

He’s driving it today, to his first day at his new job. And college starts up again in a week and a half, so he’ll need it to commute there, too.

All in all, a good learning experience for him, and for me. I’ve never worked on brakes before, though I’ve done various other work on various cars over the years. So now I can rely on him as the expert for something car-related. In fact, my Audi A4 could use new front pads …


Comments are closed.