Van – 1 Bill – 0

David, you gotta help me… I started a job, and I can’t get it finished. Can I tow my car over to your place, and will you rescue me? I feel like a little boy asking for help fixing the window he just busted before his mom comes home.

car-repari.jpgReal men hunt, fish, scratch, chew and spit. And work on their cars. I guess three out of five ain’t bad. I like working on my cars. Always have. My Uncle Tom taught me how. We spent countless hours fixing cheap cars, especially Dodge Darts (and their twin, the Plymouth Valiant). My first car was a 1971 white Plymouth Valiant with a straight-six engine. One of the most dependable engines ever made.

And very easy to work on. I love the smell of oil. The scratches you get all over your hands and arms. The satisfaction of completing the job, starting her up, and checking for leaks. The feel of Go-jo or Goop as it liquifies the sludge on your hands. The black stuff under your fingernails that proves you’re a man. I like working on cars (my cars, not yours).

So when the radiator sprung a leak on my 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan, I manned-up and bought the parts to fix it myself. “Honey, I’m gonna save our family $400,” I boasted to Margi. “Great,” she said. “We can put some of that money in the Latte Factor cup.”

She’s waaaay better than me. (The Latte Factor is a fund drive that our church is conducting.)

With Chilton’s manual in hand, and an oversized confidence, I tore into the engine.

For the uninformed, the Chilton’s manual provides a step-by-step procedure for doing all the major repairs on your car. I’ve always preferred Hayne’s manuals a heck of a lot more, but I couldn’t find one for my make and model. Chilton’s manuals tend to skip steps… but I blinded my self to that memory as I lept off my manly cliff. chilton.jpg

Hour One: Tune radio to country music station. Check! Remove battery cable. Check! This is easy! my right brain said to my left brain. Drain engine coolant. First major obstacle. Four minutes into the job. Don’t panic. I have Jesus in me. I trust him. He’ll get me through this. I can’t see the stop cock. I check the new radiator. I find the stop cock. It can only be reached if your arm can bend in six places.

car-repari_2.jpgNote to self: today’s engines have a lot less “free space” than your 1971 straight six Chrysler engine. They can only be repaired by shrunken armies of men the size of GI Joes, strategically shoved into inaccessible regions from which they never return.

Lying on my back, I wedge my fingers into the tiny space, dragging my wrist which is dragging my forearm past the lower hoses, and into a space that I can feel but not see. This is the stop cock–a small valve that I have to turn with my fingers. Except after 135,000 miles of grime, it’s stuck.

Not even a half-dozen, sincere In-the-name-of-Jesuses got it unstuck. I wedged my arm back out, found my smallest pliers, rewedged it back in, and tried to get a hold of it. But I can’t see it. It’s all Braille method. Using three fingers I got a hold of the stop cock, and got it turned a little. I knew Jesus would come through for me!

My first drenching of the day with antifreeze. Refreshing! my ever-optimistic right brain said to my doubting left. The antifreeze is supposed to drain into a large pan I bought just for this purpose. Except that the stop cock is so high up in the engine, that the coolant hits other parts first, travels along them, and then spills out in about a dozen different places. All over my new garage floor. I scramble to slide buckets under the main drippages, and shove an old blanket to catch the rest. One hour down. Coolant drained.

The Chilton’s manual lists 31 steps. I have completed step 2.

Maybe this will take longer than I think.

Hours two and three: Easier for a while. Remove air intake resonator: Check! Remove overflow tank: Check! “Remove cooling fan electrical connector on the left side of the cooling fan module.” What the–? I can’t find it, and I don’t know left from right in an engine. From whose perspective?

I skip this

I removed: the upper radiator crossmember (a frame piece), the entire air cleaner assembly, and the upper and lower hoses. This is getting hairy, but I’m a man, so I keep going. My left brain asks my right brain how I’m going to remember which bolt went into which hole. My right brain smiled wisely: You’ll know. Sometimes I hate my right brain.

Hour four: when the manual instructs me to “remove the A/C condenser mounting fasteners and separate the A/C condenser from the radiator” my hot sweat turns into cold sweat. A/C stuff scares me. It’s under pressure. It can blow up. Plus I don’t know what an A/C condenser looks like, so how the heck am I supposed to remove it?

Danger and ignorance: a manly combination.

Forget the manual! I decide. Jesus, take the wheel!

Jesus was a carpenter. Not a mechanic. Apparently there are some wheels Jesus is too smart to take.

Step 14 says: “Carefully lift the [old] radiator out of the engine compartment.” Except it won’t come out. It is sandwiched between two other radiators (oil and transfluid) and a double-fan housing… AND IT’S STILL BOLTED IN TWO PLACES.

THE TWO BOLTS I CANNOT REACH. I literally spent an hour trying to reach those two bolts. My ever-inspirational right brain suggests , Bill, you’re manly for even trying. My reality-anchored right brain snaps, You’ve got a dismantled engine sitting in your garage and the day is almost over.

I’m in my happy place. I’m in my happy place.

The evil men in suits who design engines with inaccessible bolts have a hot spot reserved for them in hell. I applaud the justice of God.

Cars of yesterday were engineered by real men.  They were mechanical.  They had things like points and gaps and stuff a real man could understand.  Cars of today are engineered by metrosexuals afraid to get their nails dirty.  Use it up and throw it out.  God forbid that we should design a car a guy could actually fix!

Maybe I can drill through the frame, and then get to the two bolts. Nope. Nothing’s long enough to reach them, and once you get them, out, how will you ever get them back in.

Maybe I can lift out the whole “sandwich” of parts, and then dismantle it. Nope. Too many hoses and connections to the A/C, the oil, the trans… it’s all connected. Plus each connector is equally unreachable.

Maybe I can get my car towed to a real mechan—- SILENCE, INFIDEL!

Dear Jesus. Please help me. I want my family to be proud of me. I trust you. “I live by faith in the Son of God who gave himself up for me.”

Hours five and six. Spent trying to get out two bolts, or to figure out how to do the job without getting them out… or organizing the parts I’ve already taken out. car-repari_1.jpg

I am hot, sweaty, greasy, smelly, scratched, confused, tired, frustrated, depressed, angry, amused, scared, proud, at a loss, and embarrassed all at once. Is there one word in the English language that can sum up all of these contradictory emotions? Yes, there is: MANLY.

At this point my inner dialogue goes something like this:

RIGHT BRAIN (inspirational): You can do it! You’re a smart guy. Think! There’s got to be a way.

LEFT BRAIN (logical): SHUT UP YOU MORON! You got me into this mess in the first place. Six hours, and we don’t even have the old part out.

RIGHT BRAIN: God is teaching you character, and expanding your capacity for grace. Cultivating patience. Maybe you needed a lesson in humil—

LEFT BRAIN: I said SHUT UP! I’m calling the tow truck.

RIGHT BRAIN: (Pauses…) Uhhhh… really?

LEFT BRAIN: Really. I’m gonna call the repair shop, beg for mercy, and call a tow truck.

RIGHT BRAIN: I feel strangely at peace with this decision.

LEFT BRAIN: Good. Because that’s the way it’s gonna be. And you’re gonna tell Margi.

Fast forward three days. I have my van back from the repair shop. I cost me $70 more than if I had just brought it to him in the first place.

I am a real man.



7 thoughts on “Van – 1 Bill – 0

  1. After reading this, I’m so awfully glad I’m a womanly woman! We just have to give birth! A piece of cake!

  2. Uhh…I don’t know exactly what to say…”Sorry” doesn’t seem to cover it. Maybe you should have started with the water pump…

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