At the insistence of my daughter, the 20 year old friend of hers that bought my mom’s car called and asked my opinion on the cost of some maintenance that was recommended by a repair shop…..

The problem was “the car runs badly, but only when I’m in a parking lot or stopped at a traffic light.  The rest of the time, it’s OK.”

The shop recommended

  • Replacing the spark plugs  $240 labor, $60 parts.
  • Replacing the spark plug wires, $240 labor and $70 parts.
  • Replacing the weak battery, $50 labor and $300 parts.

The shop also recommended some optional preventative maintenance items.

  • A transmission system “flush”, $200
  • A power steering system “flush”, $100.
  • A cooling system flush, $100.
  • A fuel system flush,  $100.


The lady said she gave my maintenance records to the shop.  I made those records and they show that

  • The battery was replaced four months ago.
  • The transmission was serviced four months ago.
  • The power steering system was flushed four months ago.
  • I had to replace the radiator in July 2017, and I flushed out the cooling system at that time.
  • The fuel system was checked and the fuel filter was replaced ‘just because’ in July 2017.


I told her to drive away from that repair shop, to never set foot in there again and to bring the car over to my house.


I went ahead a replaced the spark plugs and wires.  Since the back three spark plugs and wires are difficult to access (requires removing a bunch of hoses, components and wires), I went ahead and used the more expensive platinum electrode spark plug wires and very high quality spark plug wires so this won’t need to be done again for many years.

Once all the stuff to access the spark plugs is removed, putting in new spark plug wires only added 10 minutes of time when compared to reusing the old wires.   My guess is they quoted her a price to, “take it apart, replace the spark plugs, put it all back together, take the same stuff apart again, replace the spark plug wires and then put it all back together again.”   That is something only an idiot would do.

In reality, the spark plug wires and spark plugs were in decent (but not perfect) condition and this could have been deferred for another few years.

I checked the battery under full load and it is as good as a new battery.  It was not “weak”.


Oh, yes.  The poor idle problem.  It was none of the stuff they recommended.  It was a cracked PCV (emission) hose.  The PCV hose for a 1994 Buick is a weird custom “thing” that is not easily replaceable with generic components.  However,  General Motors used that same part in many different cars, over many different years, and the part is both easily available and very cheap.   The first auto parts place I called had one in stock for under $9.00.  Since the “rubber” sections in that part had degraded, I went ahead and replaced all the other “rubber” parts in the other vacuum lines.   It took just 15 minutes to do this and considering the low cost of vacuum lines, it’s worth the time to do this to prevent future vacuum leaks.

So, here is what it cost:

  • Slightly more than 3 leisurely hours, including getting the parts.
  • $29 for the spark plugs.  I used the more expensive platinum ones that should last “forever”
  • $31 for the spark plug wires.
  • $9 for the PCV hose.
  • $3 for some vacuum hose

Since she had given the shop person the maintenance records, my guess is that they saw a 20 year old college girl with a 24 year old car and went from there.  That annoys me and I called the repair shop to let them know this.  I was not rude, nor did I talk loudly, but I was very clear in expressing my annoyance.


This is why I insisted my daughter understand how to do the work and what it takes to do it.  Even though she doesn’t have the tools (or the room) to do the work, she still knows when “something isn’t right”.



(bad words)! I Cut my Finger!

I haven’t felt like typing this past week.

I was fixing the power windows on a car before I sell it and I managed to deeply slice the tip of my pointer finger on my left hand.  Every time I would type, I would be painfully reminded about how “busy” that finger is when typing.

The visibility inside the door cavity of a car is very poor so the work is pretty much all “done by feel”.  I was wearing gloves, but I had cut the finger tips out so I could feel what I was doing.  Knowing there were all sorts of sharp edges inside the door, I was careful…but, obviously, not careful enough.

The neighbor, a doctor, heard my muttered ‘bad words’ and saw me, holding my finger, quickly go inside.  While I was washing the grease and dirt out of the cut (wow, did that ever sting) they came to the door and asked if all was OK.  They took a quick look at the cut and suggested sutures and a tetanus shot.  I’ve had sutures in my finger before–it’s not pleasant–and they reluctantly agreed to trying butterfly bandages.  I’ve seen people hospitalized for tetanus and I had no argument about the tetanus shot.

It’s been almost a week and it’s healing nicely.  Typing doesn’t hurt (much).

Unfortunately I have two more windows to fix.  This is the first time this has happened. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat performance.

Disaster Averted

I was replacing the timing components on my 1998 Volvo S90’s engine this afternoon. While this is a somewhat technical repair, it’s not terribly time consuming.  I only had to remove about 10 bolts to expose this area of the engine and another 10-15 bolts had to be removed to replace the necessary parts (water pump, tensioner, and two idler pulleys).  It took about 2 hours from start to finish….including cleaning the tools and putting them away.

This picture was taken after I was already putting things getting back together.


The reason the post is entitled “Disaster Averted” is because this engine is what is called an Interference Engine.  As the link points out, anything that causes the timing system to fail will cause nearly irreparable engine damage.

My wife and I are very aware of the normal noises our cars make and on Monday she noticed a new noise.  I quickly discovered that the noise was coming from the timing system, so we quit driving the car until I could get the parts to fix the problem.  It turns out the problem was the pulley pointed to by the green line.  But, since this system is so important to have working correctly, I also replaced the rest of the stuff that makes up the timing system.


Today the old Volvo, if I hadn’t had a few tools, would have stranded me.

In my Volvo, three things must occur in order to shift the transmission out of “Park”.

  1. The ignition key must be “on”
  2. The brake pedal must be pressed
  3. The button on the back of the shift knob must be depressed.

All three of these things were being done, yet I could not shift the transmission out of “Park”.

There is an override button, but that didn’t work either

I’m a big enough that I can’t fit under the Volvo, so I had to jack up the car body about an inch–not enough to lift the wheels though–block the wheels, disconnect the shift selector mechanism (this where the tools come in), start the engine and shift the car into gear from underneath the car.  It wasn’t exactly the safest thing to do, but I did all I could to minimize the risk.  I was either lucky or my precautions were sufficient. 🙂

I was able to drive home and get the car into the driveway.  I have the shift selector exposed but it got dark before I could find the problem.

Tomorrow I’m going to yet another bank to do more trustee stuff for my mom, fix her car’s power window and, sometime, fix my car.

It’s supposed to be over 110F tomorrow.


College tuition is coming up and in the past month we bought two new cars (no loans).  I’m trying to save money so I can retire early and spending  $40,000 on two cars doesn’t help with that goal. So, I’m going to do all I can to keep the old car running.

Cars and Toilets

I’m hoping I can get back to the dynamotor again.   This weekend was spent doing car stuff.

First was the clutch master cylinder on the Isuzu Trooper, then the brakes on my CJ3A Jeep and finally all the suspension bushings for our daughter’s 1993 Volvo.

Once all that was done, I took care of chores at my mom’s house.  Last weekend she broke the toilet (again), so I  spent last Sunday replacing the toilet as well as cleaning up the (fortunately fresh) water that went all over the floor.

Today, the neighbors thought I was nuts…I carry a broken toilet from her garage to the front yard, bring out a flashlight and closely inspect “the remains”.

I finally figured out what was happening.  When my mom (her 98th birthday is in a few days) sits down on the toilet, she almost crashes back against the tank.   Eventually the porcelain breaks around the bolts that hold the tank to the bowl…and the place floods..

So, this afternoon it was off the to lumber store for a 2X4 and a wood blade for my saber saw.  The tank is now nicely cradled in the custom cut wood brace and I’m hoping I won’t be buying any more toilets..

Now that the brace is textured like the wall, painted and tied into the wall studs, it looks good and is a nice shelf for a spare toilet paper roll.

Limbo II and car repair

My wife got some more news yesterday.  Her CEA (CEA is a somewhat reliable blood test that indirectly measures cancer cell activity within a human body) is 31.  Less than 2.5 is normal.

Between this, the spot, and my three decades old experiences with my fiancee, I’m worried.

We’ll deal with it if it becomes necessary.


I had to fix my daughter’s car today.  Well, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to.  Thursday night it stalled alongside a roadway and had to be towed home.  I was able to complete the repair in three hours at a cost of $2.  The $2 was for some fuel line to make an excellent but very unusual repair to the failed fuel pump.  When I called a repair shop and asked the price to replace a defective in-tank fuel pump, I got a “$600 (I looked and that is an accurate price) for the fuel pump-sending unit assembly, $200 for labor (I’m guessing they are guessing it would be about 3 hours to do the work) and about $15 in shop fees”…so the estimate, I felt, was an honest one.

For the savings of $800, I got to forget about cancer for three hours.   Being able to repair cars is so useful.


More Car

I noticed on the speedometer that is was getting close to the magic “time to replace the timing belt” on the engine.  A call to the friend that gave it to me confirmed it was only about 800 miles from the scheduled replacement.

The timing belt ensures the various parts of the engine are synchronized properly.  If this synchronization is lost, say due to the timing belt breaking, the pistons will slam up into other parts of the engine.  The easiest, and often least expensive, way to fix the resulting damage is to replace the engine.  It’s much easier to replace the timing belt than to replace the engine.

Normally the timing belt replacement is a bit of a chore because the radiator is just enough in the way to be annoying…(lay under the car do some work, get up, stretch over the car, do some work, get back under the car, do some work, get up, stretch over the car, do some work, etc.) We decided to do the job 800 miles early since the radiator (and condenser and grill) are missing at the moment.

With everything out of the way there was no need to perform calisthenics; just sit on a stool and work.  She was able to finish the work in about 2 hours.