I have a confession to make. My motivation for my car projects has waned lately. I haven't lost interest. On the contrary, I've dedicated tons of my time to daydreaming, part tracking, manual reading, and networking. However, this approach doesn't turn the nuts and bolts necessary to derive the fulfillment of my motoring dreams. Serendipitously though I was in for a surprise disguised in the equivalent of kryptonite.
My girlfriend and I were awaiting the arrival of our Penn Station order when I grabbed my phone. A missed call from my grandmother revealed itself so I curiously returned her call.
"Are you home? I'm in your driveway, and I'm afraid to drive my van any further," she said with worry in her voice.
She explained that one of my uncles had told her to bring it to me. He thought I was the most knowledgeable one available. I gathered that a big brake job was done within the last few years, and it was only making noise when it moved. I told her to go ahead and park it in my side yard so I could troubleshoot it when I returned.
Grandma's van in my yard with the windows rolled down, and the keys left in the console made me nervous. Clearly, she wasn't concerned about vandals or perhaps was a little too trusting. I wondered if she had noticed the roosted bird in the tree that wails when I step under it before departing. Luck was on our side though, no signs of the bird and nothing missing!
I hopped in for a diagnostic drive. It made the harsh grinding noise that could only be severe brake pad wear. A mess of metal was surly being badly machined. Loud noises were coming from the driver's side, and it was sticking at times. I could mitigate it by a light touch of the pedal, but the problem was obvious after visual inspection.
Proving our luck further, front brake pads and a rotor would do the trick. I rummaged the internet and looked up parts prices for our local parts stores. Surprised by the quick news and happy with the prices she agreed to my rate. I retrieved the parts that same evening and went to work in my yard.
"Shade Tree Mechanic" isn't a title I get to literally wear often, but my garaged projects are immobile. I pulled the van forward into the flattest part of my yard. Chocking both rear wheels and engaging the emergency brake provided some safety. I decided to work on one side at a time believing that having three wheels on the ground would be least precarious.
Some heavy force with a long breaker bar was required to loosen the lug nuts. Clearly, the last person to install them had an impact gun set to infinite. About this time my Dad and his dog had stopped by on their evening walk. They assisted me with some setup and by turning the steering wheel towards me before continuing their journey. Thankfully the caliper came off relatively easy with the breaker bar.
Next, I pushed back the caliper piston with a C clamp, greased the pins, and the touchpoints for the pads. I hung the new rotor and torqued the caliper bolts just as the sun stopped shedding enough light to continue. I would have to wait until morning to tackle the other side.
I was a bit sore in the morning, but my mood wasn't affected. Cheerfully, I reassembled the passenger side brakes. My test drive included a trip down to the local car wash. I attempted to remove the brake dust from the tires and rims for future monitoring. Also, I'm sure Grandma appreciated the gesture. I felt good and it made her visibly joyful when I returned her van clean and free of issue.
I've been missing out on simple joys of car repair, while mentally draining myself over complex projects. My projects will be rewarding over the long term, but sometimes it's best to be able to help someone out, do a simple diagnosis, and complete a rather routine repair. Plus, it always feels good if not great to be helpful and be able to sharpen your skills at the same time.