Okay, this is going to be stupid. I know that even before I begin. I’m going to tell the story anyway.
I’m not a big mechanical sort of guy. I don’t do a lot of work on cars, I haven’t built or rebuilt my own house. At the hangar I can get called on when they need an extra pair of hands to hold something or push something or help lift something, but no one in their right minds would ever let me actually use a wrench or pair of pliers or a screwdriver on a critical airplane system without the kind of oversight you might give to a 5-year-old who wants to play mechanic.
Well, maybe it’s not that bad. I can and have changed the oil on my (older) cars, I can change out the battery (even on the PT Cruiser, which requires removal of multiple tubes and air filters to get at the battery to begin with), I can change a tire. I can fix bicycles, we did strip wallpaper and paint the bedroom, I’m actually pretty good at some landscape and gardening tasks (except for use of jack hammers).
With that said, it’s time to bite the bullet, one way or the other, and get The Younger Daughter’s car fixed. About two years ago it had a $30 part in the ignition switch assembly break, I spent four days stranded in Coalinga, and Chrysler wanted $2,000+ to put in an entire new steering column instead of simply replacing the $30 part. I eventually had a mechanic in Coalinga jury rig the ignition to work around the broken part. It was enough to get me back to Los Angeles, and then the car got driven every now and then just to keep the fluids moving and the belts doing their belting thing. Functional, more or less, but it’s not a workable solution for daily use.
This was not a priority with The Younger Daughter in Asia or South America for years at a time. The car just sat in our driveway. When she showed up unexpectedly for my birthday ten days ago, the need to get it fixed shot to the top of the priority list.
The $30 part is available online, along with a video showing how to do the replacement. It doesn’t look like rocket science, almost easy enough for me to try, but it would require a couple of anti-theft specialty tools which I don’t have and don’t know if I could get. Plus, see above — “not a big mechanical sort a guy.”
Chrysler continues to be bureaucratic and stupid (no more Chryslers for us!) so we found a local, small, individual repair shop that got great reviews on Yelp. I had used them a couple times before for other things and had real good service, so we gave them a try to at least look at it. They were fantastic, checked out the part, looked at the video, listened to my story, and said, “Sure, we could do that for a couple hundred dollars.” Exactly what I was looking for.
This morning we got a call. The mechanic had gotten the part, had it installed — but did I have this other part from the housing around the ignition? It must have been taken off by the Coalinga mechanics when they jury rigged it two years ago, but I didn’t have it. It wasn’t anywhere in the car that we could see or anywhere here at the house. Could we order another one? Nope, not in any catalogs.
Time to give up and spend the $1,300 for the parts on a new steering column and have this guy install it for less than Chrysler would, but still making it a very, very repair?
No way! It’s time for an adventure!
The solution to this missing part problem? Someone (i.e., me and The Younger Daughter) need to go to a junkyard or “pick it parts place” and find a junked PT Cruiser, tear open the steering column, take off this one missing piece, and bring it back. Simple, no?
But harken back if you will to my comments about my mechanical skills and abilities, or the lack thereof. While I know of these places in theory and the task seemed relatively straightforward on paper, my first reaction to having me do it was to scoff. Or snort. Or possibly both.
The Younger Daughter’s google-fu was strong and she found a junkyard that does this sort of thing. (It’s Los Angeles, there are dozens of them apparently. Not a big surprise.) I re-watched the YouTube video that shows the repair to refresh my memory of how the steering column comes apart. We checked with our mechanic to make sure that I knew what part I needed. I asked about the specialized tools and our mechanic actually loaned me his. (No way there’s another auto repair shop in LA that does that!) Off we go, the stereotypical fishes out of water, looking like something out of a Chevy Chase movie.
The Younger Daughter can’t get into the monstrously huge pick-it parts junkyard because she’s wearing sandals. (Did I mention the “fish out of water” part?) I go in alone with my little bag of tools and I’m facing what looks like a hundred acres or more of junked cars, thousands and thousands of them. Their website says there are three or four PT Cruisers in here — it doesn’t say a thing about where.
Before I look totally lame and stupid to the junk-yard dudes and start asking for help, my tattered remnants of macho studmuffinly pride tell me to wander for a bit to see if I can find one. It’s only about 93°F out there…
And then a miracle happened.
After less than five minutes of wandering and looking at cars, I find a PT Cruiser. And its steering column is intact. And between my tools and the special anti-theft tools loaned to me by the mechanic, in less than ten minutes I have the steering column torn apart and the missing part in my hand. And it costs about $4.
We hustle it back to the mechanic, return his tools with a thousand thanks, and pray that it’s the correct part. I’m still figuring that the gods are just screwing with me and it will be the wrong size, or from the wrong year’s model, or somehow different and useless. But less than two hours later, the car is done and The Younger Daughter again has a functional vehicle.
I’m not a religious person, but that’s a close as I’ve seen to an actual case of Divine Intervention as I’ve seen in quite a while.
However, because I’m not a religious person, tonight I’m feeling quite unreasonably full of myself and taking great pride in my manly, testosterone-laced, mechanical accomplishments. (Cue all of those Tim Allen routines about “More Power!” and manly men pounding on their chests while hooting and honking like Neanderthals.)
I used tools!
I got grease and dirt on my hands!
I kicked that junked PT Cruiser’s ass and ripped out the part I needed to transplant in The Younger Daughter’s car!
Har! Har! Haarrr! Haarrrrr!! (*pounds chest and howls at the moon*)