Adventures In Auto Repair

fff|ggg|camry_outside_shots/200205061717085_G|The Camry|ggg|fff

I enjoy driving. I like to get in the car, hit the road, and drive anywhere. Down to the corner store or across the country, it’s all good. As long as my car is working, that is. For you see, as much as I enjoy driving, I do not enjoy dealing with the mechanical side of owning a car.

When I first received the Camry from Pop-Pop (happy birthday!) in the spring of 2000, I would simply take it to the Toyota dealership and have them take care of all of the repairs. After a few years passed, it became readily apparent that they are overzealous in their estimation of needed repairs, and that they greatly overcharge for parts and labor.

The next step was to find a trustworthy local mechanic. I found a few good places in Beverly – Northeast Autolabs and Auto-Dyne, both within walking distance of our apartment. They charged less than Toyota, and were honest in their appraisals and estimates of the work that needed to be done. But even the local mechanic can be expensive, particularly if they’re installing factory-new parts.

Thankfully, my father-in-law Ken has stepped in within the past year or so to advise me on matters of auto repair, and in fact to do many of the repairs himself, as long as he has some free time and the necessary parts. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few bits of knowledge and have developed enough confidence to start fixing things on my own. What follows are some of my recent experiences and ‘adventures’ in auto repair.

When Ken is working on cars, he has a good intuitive sense of what to do, and at least for the work he’s done on our cars, he hasn’t needed to use any reference documentation. I, on the other hand, don’t have (or haven’t developed) that intuition, so I rely on documentation. For that, I turn to the ***Haynes Repair Manual|*** for the 1992-1996 model Toyota Camry (or, as it is known in Toyota circles, the 3rd Gen Camry). I can also reference the official Toyota repair manuals, put together ***in PDF format|*** by the folks at the ***ToyotaNation|*** forums. These manuals give step-by-step instructions for disassembling, replacing, and reassembling pretty much everything in the car. There are even instructions for tearing down and rebuilding the engine (if I was ever crazy enough to want to do that). Apart from manuals, it is imperative to always possess your license & other essentials, & be able to produce them on demand. Among them also include emergency services like Ambulance, fire or car disposals. Car disposal agencies are an important part in your vehicular life and as also, we provide cheap car partsfor your car, you can also get some quick spare parts.

Parts Sources
Factory new parts are expensive, and you never know how much the mechanic or dealer is marking them up. So unless you have plenty of discretionary income, look for used or rebuilt parts. ***eBay|*** is a good source for this. Local junkyards are also a good source, as you can often pull perfectly good parts out of junked cars.

Basic auto repairs require little more than a set of socket wrenches and a screwdriver, check out these cordless impact wrench reviews and consider getting a cordless wrench to make changing tires easier. In order to work efficiently under a car, it is also necessary to have a jack to raise the car, and jack stands to rest it on. Other tools may be helpful for certain tasks. I only have a jack for changing tires, which is not recommended to be used for extended periods of time or for working underneath a car. Also, my car is typically parked in the shared parking lot at our apartment, so it is not generally a safe place in which to perform auto repairs.

The suspension is responsible for holding the car up off of the ground, and for creating a smooth ride. The main components in the Camry’s suspension system are shock absorbers and coil springs. Shock absorbers are gas-filled tubes that expand and contract slowly in response to the motion of the car. Coil springs are large, metallic springs that sit on top of the shock absorbers and cushion the car against large bumps.

The suspension system is very succeptible to wear, particularly in our area, where there are a lot of potholes, bumpy roads, railroad tracks, speedbumps, etc. Over time, the parts wear down and even break. In my case, the front left coil spring was broken, and the shocks were very worn down. This caused symptoms such as loud creaking and sagging when the car went over bumps, as well as a loud rattling noise which was the coil spring moving freely up and down (and thus not properly supporting the car). Aside from the bad ride, the broken coil spring had very sharp points, and because of its close proximity to the tire, could potentially have spun around and punctured the tire. Not something you want while driving at 60 mph up the Tobin Bridge.

Ken was able to procure two complete front shock absorber and coil spring assemblies from a 1995 Camry in a junkyard. The Camry only had 60,000 miles on it, and the parts were in very good condition. To replace the shocks, he jacked up the front end of the car, removed the tires (five bolts), removed the old assemblies (another five bolts), put the new assemblies in, and put the tires back on. Voila! New front suspension! The front end is riding very nicely now – smooth and quiet.

I’ll probably want to put some new rear shocks on soon, but they aren’t nearly as bad as the front ones.

Air Conditioning
Air conditioning is somewhat of a luxury in automobiles. It is still considered an option on many cars. Many people prefer not to use it because of the increased load it puts on the engine, resulting in lower performance, and for the complexity it adds to maintaining and repairing the car. On the upside, it can make driving in hot weather much more bearable, particularly driving in traffic.

The compressor is considered the ‘heart’ of the A/C system. Its job is basically to act as a pump to circulate refrigerant through the system (***read here|*** for more in-depth information). In my Toyota Camry, the compressor is powered via a belt that runs from the main engine to the alternator to the compressor. Because of this, if the compressor stops rotating, the belt stops running, and the engine stops.

Unfortunately, this is just what happened a few days ago, as we were on our way to Ken’s house to have him repair the front suspension. I had noticed that we were having problems with the air conditioner. It would keep shutting off after being on for only a few seconds. Once when we were waiting at a stop sign, the air conditioning stopped, and then all of the dashboard gauges dropped to zero! The gauges, including the spedometer and odometer, did not start back up after the car starter. We were also noticing that the car was not accelerating as quickly as it usually does. When we got to Ken’s house, he checked out the engine and found that the compressor wasn’t working properly. It appeared that the clutch – the part which the belt winds around – was not rotating properly. This caused the air conditioning not to work, and, for some reason, also blew out the fuse for the dashboard gauges!! For the time being, we replaced the fuse and tried not to use the air conditioning.

After we left Ken’s, I noticed that there was a very loud sound coming from the engine, and that there was a funny smell. I decided to let it go for the night and then see what happened in the morning. The sound and smell were gone, so I thought things would be okay. But then when I drove my car out at around lunch time, it stalled right in the middle of traffic on Endicott Street in Danvers! (For those not in the North Shore, that’s a very busy shopping area, especially at midday.) After ten minutes attempting to flag someone down, a driver on the other side of the street finally stopped to help me push the car into a parking lot, and I called for a tow.

I had the car towed back to our apartment, and called Ken to ask for his advice. His suggestion was to buy a shorter belt designed for Camrys with no air conditioning. Then, run the belt directly between the engine and alternator, bypassing the compressor. This would at least get the car working again, and would take the faulty compressor out of the equation. So I walked down to our local ***Autopart International|*** and bought the belt. Ken showed up a few hours later and did the bulk of the manual labor. The most challenging part was figuring out how to run the belt between the engine and alternator, without it running into the compressor. We tried shifting the compressor a bit, but couldn’t get it far enough away. Then we had the idea to remove the compressor from the frame (but not to disconnect it from the refrigerant hoses). Ken tied the compressor to the frame with a wire coat hanger. You can see his handiwork ***here|***.

We could technically do without the compressor. We would need to pay a repair shop to safely discharge our refrigerant before removing the compressor. But if we ever did want to put a compressor in, we’d have to pay all over again. So we figured we might as well just get one. I have ordered ***a compressor|*** via ***eBay|***. It should get here some time next week, at which point I can attach it to the frame. The only thing left to do will be for an auto repair shop to evacuate the refrigerant, unhook the old compressor, hook up the new compressor, and recharge the refrigerant.

Power Windows
Power windows are handy. You can raise or lower your car’s window glass simply by pressing a button. Even better, you can control all of your car’s windows from one single panel – no need to reach over and crank the passenger’s side window if you’re in the driver’s seat.

Power windows are also a curse. They have a lot of mechanical and electronic parts, pulleys, cables, springs, motors, and all sorts of things that can go wrong. The two main components of a power window, apart from the glass, are the regulator and the motor. The regulator consists of a mount which holds the glass, a track for the mount to run up and down on, and a system of springs, pulleys, and wires to pull the mount up and down. These wires run to a motor, which is in turn controlled from the power window switches inside the car.

Last summer, the cable on the driver’s side window regulator of my Camry broke, and thus my window would not go up or down. We found a replacement assembly on ***eBay|***, and with Ken’s help we installed it without too much trouble. Hooray, the window worked again!

Well, until just recently. Either the part I ordered on eBay was of inferior quality, or we didn’t install it quite right. In any case, the window has been working just intermittently. Last night, I took the door and window apart to see if I could figure out the problem. It turns out that the top pulley on the regulator is starting to crack, and is pulling away from the track. This is causing the pulley to fail to operate, and is also causing a loud squealing sound when the window does operate, since the pulley is touching the window glass itself. You can see some photos of the problem ***here|***. We will probably end up trying to find a regulator off of a junked Camry, or else buy another one on eBay. It’s quite annoying not to be able to roll the window down.

There are still some things that ought to be repaired on the Camry. The front right axle has a torn CV boot, and needs to be replaced. The rear brakes need to be repaired. The rear shocks should be replaced.

With 210,000 miles, the real question is, when am I going to buy another car? At the moment, the cost of making the necessary repairs is still less than the cost of purchasing another car. Also at the moment, our budget doesn’t have room for a payment on a car loan. So go to my blog, I’ll keep plugging away with the Camry, and meanwhile we’ll be saving up for the day when we do finally need another car.

2 thoughts on “Adventures In Auto Repair

  1. Ken F

    Glad to see you doing the “manly”man stuff and not the “girly”man stuff now!!!!! Now just go chug a few long necks, make arm pit noises and burp and you’ll be all set (that and go see the Dukes of Hazzards” for its fine scenery and acting skills!

  2. Andrew K

    I’m experiencing my own adventures in auto repair with my own Camry (1990 model though). Right now I’m trying to find out why I can’t recharge the AC.


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