October 11, 1999
This story was written by Gary Power, from St. John's, Newfoundland. Gary wrote this while he was attending classes at the Brother T.I. Murphy Learning Resource Centre in St. John's. Gary's hobbies have always been fixing small appliances and gadgets. After he left school following Grade 11, he worked at Canadian Tire for 18 years. He decided to enroll in Adult Basic Education courses after being laid off. Gary is now taking classes at the College of the North Atlantic. Once he completes his ABE, he will probably take a course in electronics engineering technology.
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Before you attempt to save a little by doing your own car repairs, heed my story fraught with delays, frustration and expense.
For several months I have had an oil leak owing to a badly rusted pan at the base of the engine of my car. More recently, the leak began to turn into a small river. I had to check the oil every day, and add a litre, two or three times a week. About a month ago I decided the time had come to do something about it. I brought the car to few garages around town and the cheapest estimate for the work was $230.00 taxes included. "Well", I said, "there cannot be that much to putting on a new base-pan. It will just be a matter of buying a few nuts and bolts, a new filter and the pan." I decided then and there that I could do the job a lot more cheaply if I did it myself. The adventure that would test the limits of my physical, emotional and financial endurance would soon begin.
I mentioned my plan to my landlord, who works for Apple Auto Glass. He informed me that he could get the base-pan at wholesale price, which would be about $66.00. "Great!" I said, and promptly provided him with the money to buy it for me. Then, I went shopping for a gasket, four litres of oil and a new filter. The total cost of all parts come to $95.00, taxes included.
It was September 18. I borrowed the use of a friends garage and a hydraulic jack. That is when the trouble really started. I jacked up the car and found there was a mountain of gadgets in the way of the base-pan, including the starting motor, fuel pump and the frame of the car! I realized I would have to rent an engine hoist if I was to have any hope of getting the job done. "Oh well", I said, "no big deal. I'll rent a lift tomorrow."
The next day it cost me $40.00 to rent an engine hoist. I set it up and soon found myself having to unhook the exhaust system, axles, drive-train and motor mounts. The bolts, in some cases, were so badly rusted they just would not come off. I had to rent an oxy-acetylene torch to remove them. Several bolts cracked off while using the blowtorch, and some gaskets needed replacement. The total cost of this part of the job, including charges for the torch, nuts, bolts and gaskets was another $35.00.
The starting motor was one of the items in the way of being able to remove the base-pan screws, so it had to be removed. The electrical terminals connecting the solenoid switch were badly corroded, and I cracked off the solenoid trying to remove a wire. I now needed to buy a new solenoid switch at a cost of $30.00.
By September 21, I was finally ready to begin removing the base-pan. The screws were very rusted, and some were destroyed during removal. I made a mental note to buy new ones. After removing all the screws I tried to pry off the base-pan. Soon, I found that this was no easy task. The base-pan had been replaced before and was stuck firmly with a high-heat firm hold silicone bond. There was very little room to work under the car with a pry-bar, so I decided to attack the problem from above. I crawled out from under the car and stood looking down at the engine through the bonnet. With crowbar and sledge hammer in hand, I proceeded to bang on what I thought was the lip of the base-pan which ran along the bottom of the engine. The crowbar slipped and put a hole in a rusty coolant pipe that stretched from the radiator to the heater core (which is located behind the engine). I went back to the people at Canadian Tire, who at this point were personally addressing weekly flyers to my home. I purchased a coolant pipe, four litres of anti-freeze and new base-pan screws at a total cost of another $50.00.
Finally, on September 24, I managed to completely pry off the base-pan. To my dismay, I discovered that the base-pan lip I'd been hammering away at was in fact the casing for the timing chain. It had been bent so badly that the new base-pan would not fit properly. It was necessary to hammer this casing back into place as best I could. Even after doing this, the fit was not perfect. I had to return yet again to Canadian Tire for a tube of specially made silicone gasket material to fill the gap. This cost me another $9.00.
By September 26, I somehow managed to put everything back together. I had spent much more money on parts alone that the garage would have charged for parts and labour.
In the final analysis, rented machinery and tools cost me $259.00. Replacement costs for ruined clothes was about $120.00, for a total cost to me of a whopping $359.00! By comparison, my actual cost came to $129.00 more than the guaranteed estimate I had received from those nice people at the garage. Oh, did I forget to mention the hundred hours I laboured with no hope of remuneration? I have learned my lesson. When it comes to car repairs, leave it to the professionals.