Partsmom’s Wit & Wisdom

Conversation from a weblist of British car restoration enthusiasts: (used by permission, more or less)

#1: To be honest, the [classic car] club was full of some very nice guys, but you were a little intimidating to a complete tyro with less mechanical knowledge than a hamster, possibly even a dead one. I got a lot of excellent advice which I was unable to understand or use because of stupidity and lack of physical coordination, and what little work I did attempt on the car seemed to make it worse, not better (including a rather terrifying emergency brake stop after a hydraulic failure, fortunately at low speed in a residential neighborhood). I spent a lot of time nodding and smiling while thinking to myself “jeez, I don’t even know what a fitzenjammer IS, let alone how to align one with the hoosenbardle”. My dreams of becoming a real man and fixing my own classic car came to naught… So the car sat. I’m a dork. I’m sorry!

#2: Well that sets the demarcation for your knowledge of restoration basics, as you have unerringly homed in on the car’s two most critical components. Fact is you can fix them spot-on independently BUT if the fitzenjammer is more or less than 0.0000001 of a mil. out of register with the hoosenbardle the sump oil will be converted to rodent pee in precisely the first 1.766 (recurring) of a minute’s use and you can kiss goodbye — forever — to your beejeezlewhacker, with probable terminal loss of all kinetic obscurantism as well.
I know — from mournful experience
Yours sympathetically

#3: Dang, and all these years, I’ve always aligned the hoosenbardle with the spindletop bearings…the fitzenjammer is part of the frammistat, and as such, needs no alignment.

Check your policy for their terms on Uninsured Motorist! My sister-in-law was rear-ended on the freeway one evening about 8pm, and when she pulled off to the side, the van who had clobbered her “zoomed off” too fast for her to get a license number. She limped off the freeway, the guys at a gas station near the offramp pried the door open for her to get out, and she called a tow truck and had it towed to her house, and then the next day, to our shop. When I asked her if she had called the police, she said she hadn’t, because she didn’t know what to tell them. Big mistake! When she called her insurance company about the Uninsured Motorist coverage, their answer: “How do you know he was uninsured?”

We talked to them as well, and according to the terms of her policy (this is a major, nationwide company), if she does not have the driver’s name and address or the license number of the vehicle, she is not covered. An adjuster that I talked to said that they refuse coverage on about 60% of their uninsured motorist claims. I talked to a lawyer friend, and he said that the biggest problem is that without any information and no police report, she can’t even prove that she was actually hit by a hit-and-run driver.

We’re also going around with our insurer on a similiar case, because our son, while sitting at a stoplight, was hit by a stolen vehicle being chased by the police. The driver was apprehended and is in jail. He put in a claim with the city whose police were involved, and was ignored. Again the question came up: How do you know the driver was uninsured? At least in this case there is a police report and we know where the driver is. We’re still working on this one.

Several of the local auto shop teachers are customers of ours, and one of them told us about a lady who called, offering her husband’s car as a student project. What kind of car? “Porsche”. What kind of Porsche? “I think it’s a Terrarium.” What’s wrong with it? “They told me the engine and transmission are all fried.” How did that happen? “I drove it to Palm Springs (60 miles) and don’t know how to shift, so I didn’t.” What gear was it in? “They said it was the first one.” Apparently when she got there it was kind of hot and crackling, so she let it cool down and drove it home. Her husband hadn’t spoken to her for two weeks…

Got a call one day for a rear caliper kit from a shop up the street. Got another call from the same shop a few minutes later: “Cancel the caliper kit, it’s not leaking. Found out when the brakes squeaked, he oiled them…”

What I’d like to find is the little guys an inch tall with really long strong fingers that assemble cars — all the factories must have them; we see their work everywhere!

I will share with you the patent pending Evan Hillman™ Ignition Testing Technique (This came from a Hillman chat list)

Step 1: Invite a friend over to you garage to help you test.
Step 2: Remove the #1 spark plug. Leave the wire attached.
Step 3: Have your friend place the #1 spark plug in his mouth. Have him take a firm grip on a bare surface on the engine.
Step 4: Turn the engine over.
Step 5: Measure the body imprint in the roof of the garage.
• Full body through the roof: Ignition is fine.
• Body partially imbedded in roof: Replace the condenser.
• Friend still standing there, looking gullible: Replace rest of ignition components.
Step 6: find new friends.

As you can see, this is a simple, straightforward technique for testing the ignition system on your favorite automobile. (Kids — don’t try this at home.)

My suspicion about parts proliferation: one of the reasons that stuff gets redesigned so often is that the engineers and designers have figured out that if they come in in the morning with a really nifty idea that came to them in the middle of the night after too much teriyaki and ice cream, it makes them look good, makes their boss look good, gives their brother-in-law in the tool and die business a new contract. Now if someone were to say that there’s nothing wrong with the way they did it last week, they would ask “Why are we paying you?” Or as a man who used to work for me once said, “If they move a bolt hole 1/4″ in a part, that’s 50,000 sales just to fill the pipeline before single one goes onto a car.”

It seems to be worse with Japanese makes, but both Mercedes and VW have invented way too many brake pads in the last five years. Part of it seems to be keeping their vendors and competitors off base, as well. They wouldn’t want to make it too easy for us, now, would they?

Interesting character of the month: the man who didn’t believe in charging systems. He had a Nash Metro and three big batteries, two of whom lived on chargers and the third in the car, and rotated them every few times he drove the car. He believed that it was better on the electrical components to have straight-line (although declining) power rather than the little fluctuations that you get from a generator. Probably saved a few watts of engine power, as well.

And, if you ever need to know this, most cars will run for awhile without a generator or alternator (unplug if it it’s got a really ugly short) as long as you aren’t using any major power consumers (headlights, heavy-duty speakers, etc.). Cars with computers don’t do real well if the voltage drops much below 12v, though.

Now that we’re seeing VW Bugs again (both the new and the old ones) it’s time to dust off a couple of the original VW jokes, from the days when VWs were seen as jokes. Like the story of the lady who got a huge ball of steel wool and knitted herself a Volkswagen.

My favorite, though, is the story of the little old lady whose VW quit, and when she got it off to the side of the road, she didn’t know quite what to do but she had noticed that usually when she saw other people off the road like that, they were looking under the hood. So she walked around to the front of the car, lifted the hood, and was horrified to find nothing there. Seeing her there, another little old lady in another VW stopped to offer assistance.
First LOL: “Eek! Something’s happened to my engine! It’s gone!”
Second LOL: “Not to worry, dearie, I found a spare in my trunk!”

“Economy Cars” are only economical when they run. When they stop running, they stop being economical!

The problem with fixing up a car so you can sell it is that when it’s running right, you don’t need to sell it –and when it isn’t, you can’t sell it.

Sometimes I think half of our customers are patching up a car to sell — and the other half are the poor souls who bought them.

Learn from the sad experience of one of our customers. Found what he thought was a really good deal on a Lexus SUV, low miles, 20% under low book. Met the seller in a parking lot, brought $8K cash, $32K cashiers’ check. Seller told him it had been in a minor fender-bender. Come to find out that the vehicle had been salvaged. When he called the seller to demand his money back, said seller told him, no dice, he had gotten a really good deal for $32K. Cash, what cash? Buyer’s lawyer told him that it would be a bad lawsuit, maybe $15K costs, maybe1-2 years. DVM has no leverage on a private party sale, except that in cases where a car is left on a vacant lot with a for-sale sign, the DMV can go after the sellers for unlicensed activity. You may not trust car dealers, but at least you can usually find them if you have a problem, and the DMV has some leverage. Lesson, if you do private party deals? Get everything in writing, check the title for salvage notations or a seller’s name that is different from the person you deal with. If there is dealer brokering a private party deal, that isn’t kosher — keep copies of any ads, etc., that could tie him to the deal if it goes sour. Remember that here in California the seller is liable for the smog (even if you agree to as-is)–you might want to have your own smog expert look at it even if the seller supplies a smog cert. Two years down the road you don’t want ugly surprises. In fact, even on an as-is deal, you can force the seller to unwind the deal if the car can’t be smogged. To find out the salvage history, if any, on a vehicle, check out

Supposed to be a true story from one of my vendors: This poor guy kept having his Triumph Spitfire convertible top slashed so that the thieves could get into the car and steal the radio. Finally, when he replaced the top, he laminated a metal screen under the top, and connected the screen to a heavy-duty high voltage capacitor. Put a knife into it, get knocked a few feet. Worked fine; no more stolen radios. After a while, the top began to get a little weatherchecked on the top, and in damp weather, it sputtered a bit. Then one drizzly day, a traffic cop stopped the Spitfire, swaggered up to the car, leaned his elbow on the top of the damp convertible top …

One of the unusual things about British side-draft carburetors (otherwise known as side-draught carburettors), both S.U. and Zenith-Stromberg, is the oil reservoir at the top of the air sliding valve, which has a damper in it that acts sort of like a screen-door closer to smooth out the carburetor’s response to changing throttle inputs. You can modify the speed with which the carb responds by playing with the viscosity of the oil, (the thicker the oil, the slower the response) but the original recommended stuff is about a 10W light machine oil. Some repair manuals suggest automatic transmission fluid as an alternate. We got a call one day from someone whose Sprite wasn’t running right. Someone had told him to put trans fluid in the carburetor damper…and he put in 90W…


ADJUSTABLE WRENCH: Also known as a knucklebuster. Will round off any sized nut, standard or metric.
AIR COMPRESSOR: A machine that takes energy produced in a coal-burning power plant 200 miles away and transforms it into compressed air that travels by hose to a Chicago Pneumatic impact wrench that grips rusty bolts last tightened 60 years ago by someone in Springfield, and rounds them off.
BATTERY ELECTROLYTE TESTER: A handy tool for transferring sulphuric acid from a car battery to the inside of your tool box after determining that your battery is dead as a door nail, just as you thought.
CRAFTSMAN 1/2 x 16-INCH SCREWDRIVER: A large motor mount prying tool that inexplicably has an accurately machined screwdriver tip on the end without the handle.
DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your coffee across the room, splattering it against that freshly painted part you were drying.
DUCT TAPE: Used for sealing and fastening together almost everything. Great for patching holes and covering rusty areas on car bodies.
EIGHT-FOOT LONG DOUGLAS FIR 2X4: Used for levering a motorcycle upward off a hydraulic jack.
ELECTRIC HAND DRILL: Normally used for spinning steel Pop rivets in their holes until you die of old age, but it also works great for drilling mounting holes in fenders just above the brake line that goes to the rear wheel.
E-Z OUT BOLT AND STUD EXTRACTOR: A tool that snaps off in bolt holes and is ten times harder than any known drill bit.
HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the pessimism principle. It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.
HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of radar device to locate expensive parts not far from the object we are trying to hit.
HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to cut hoses 1/2 inch too short.
HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering a motorcycle to the ground after you have installed your new front disk brake set-up, trapping the jack handle firmly under the front fender.
MECHANIC’S KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on boxes containing seats and motorcycle jackets.
METAL SNIPS: See hacksaw.
OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely for lighting various flammable objects in your garage on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside a brake drum you’re trying to get the bearing grease out of.
PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the lids of old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splash oil on your shirt; can also be used, as the name implies, to round off Phillips screw heads and can double as oil filter removal wrench by stabbing through stubborn oil filters.
PHONE: Tool for calling your neighbour to see if he has another hydraulic floor jack.
PIPE CUTTER: See hose cutter.
PIPE WRENCH: See adjustable wrench
PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads.
PRYBAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.
SNAP-ON GASKET SCRAPER: Theoretically useful as a sandwich tool for spreading mayonnaise; used mainly for getting dog-doo off your boot.
TIMING LIGHT: A stroboscopic instrument for illuminating grease build-up.
TROUBLE LIGHT: The mechanic’s own tanning booth. Sometimes called a drop light, it is a good source of vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin,” which is not otherwise found under motorcycles at night. Health benefits aside, its main purpose is to consume 40-watt light bulbs at about the same rate that 105-mm howitzer shells might be used during, say, the first few hours of the Battle of the Bulge. More often dark than light, its name is somewhat misleading.
TWEEZERS: A tool for removing wood splinters.
TWO-TON HYDRAULIC ENGINE HOIST: A handy tool for testing the tensile strength of ground straps and brake lines you may have forgotten to disconnect.
VICE- GRIPS: Used to round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.
WHITWORTH SOCKETS: Once used for working on older British cars and motorcycles, they are now used mainly for impersonating that 9/16 or 1/2 socket you’ve been searching for, the last 15 minutes.
WIRE WHEEL: Cleans rust off old bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprint whorls and hard-earned guitar calluses in about the time it takes you to say, “Ouc….”
(Thanks to Evan Hillman)