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It started with a grinding noise somewhere near the front tire.

A visual inspection didn’t turn anything up, but later our Suburban began shaking every time I braked. Something was clearly wrong but I still drove it a few times out of necessity — to church, to buy some tortillas…you know, necessities. Then, the kicker. This time I braked and the entire vehicle shook the way a car does when a teenager is learning to drive a stick.

Rattle rattle, thump thump, grind, stop. Breathe, pray.

“That does it,” I said. “The Stagecoach is grounded ’til further notice.” (We call our Suburban The Stagecoach.)

I’m no mechanic — we might as well establish this from the outset — but that hasn’t stopped me from logging hundreds of hours repairing various automobiles over the course of my forty-four years. There are a few reasons for this:

  • I’ve learned that 60% of the challenge in repairing something is the fear of taking it apart.
  • I hate spending money on anything that’s not either delicious or entertaining.
  • I’m a man.

But largely, it’s because my wife grew up watching her dad fix everything short of a broken heart (he builds race cars for fun), so, you might say the pressure is always on. Whenever something breaks, be it plumbing, a vehicle, a gutter, or whatnot, she asks me these six little words: “Is that something you can fix?”

My wife is an amazing woman. When she asks me this question it’s always with the utmost sincerity, no doubt seasoned with compassion for my fragile male ego. She would never say, “My dad could fix it” (though he could) and, if I answer, “No,” she always smiles and accepts that we will have to pay a professional.

For me, this is torture.

My “No, I can’t fix it” declaration causes something in me to shrivel up, so I often avoid that by saying, “Probably,” meaning, “I have no idea,” and then off to YouTube I go. Let us pick up the story there.

Act I

A little research and thirty minutes under the Stagecoach led me to a bad rotor. I sent her dad a text image, evidence of my triumphant diagnosis.

“Better change those calipers, too,” he texts back. I quickly search changing calipers.

“Of course,” I reply a few minutes later. Duh.

YouTube is the poser handyman’s best friend; I don’t know how men faked technical proficiency prior to it. After watching a few videos, I stand before my beautiful bride, puff up my chest, and proclaim, “Yeah,” faking nonchalance. “I CAN FIX IT.”

A few days later I pack the five-year-old into the car and head to AutoZone, soon to be known as the orange auto store, orange being the motif of their signage, the store’s only distinguishable characteristic evident to my son. There would be other colors to come.

Saturday we begin. According to the YouTube videos I’d watched, after unbolting the tire, the rotor was supposed to come off with a few smacks from the sledgehammer. Yeah, no.

Scroll, scroll, scroll. Send pictures to her dad. Get short replies.

It appears that on a ’99 Suburban, the nut holding the hub’s rotor needs to come off also…with a 36mm socket…which I don’t have…and that nobody has in stock. Saturday being almost over, I clean up, inform my lovely bride that (through no fault of mine) we are dead in the water till I can find the right socket, and start searching the internet for the elusive part.

Act II

Midweek, I strike cyber gold: Napa Auto Parts can order me the socket, so off to the blue auto parts store we go. The following Thursday I’m ready to give it another go. Almost immediately I discover another snag —- bolts, four of them, crusted shut from 20 years’ worth of Alaskan weather to boot. I watch some more videos with no clear answers but luckily I have an ace in the hole: a friend in the form of a certified Chevy mechanic who answers his texts.

“You need to take the hub assembly off,” he texts after checking the diagrams.

At this, I begin wondering if my “I CAN FIX IT’ was a bit premature.

He sends a follow-up text. “You’ll probably need to order new bolts because you’ll kill ’em taking them off. You’ll also need to take the tie rods off first to reach them better.”

Google tie rods. Watch video. “Oh, sure. Got it.” Yep, premature indeed. By this point I’m well down the rabbit hole, so back under the wheel, I go where I notice something else: I have no idea how to take off a tie rod. YouTube, more YouTube, and still more YouTube. Finally, I find a video with a tie rod assembly that matches mine. The lady in the video says, “Now take your pickle fork.”

I pause. Take my what?

“Take your pickle fork, and put in between the tie rod…”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to testify: Pickle forks are real. Fortunately, they’re not all that expensive ($11) and readily available at O’Reilly’s, the green auto parts store, as is the 15mm impact grade socket I also don’t have to take off the bolts I’m going to kill which I can’t reach without pickle forking something under the wheel.

The second Saturday morning I stand before The Stagecoach, determined to give her new shoes lest the heavens fall. My wife decides to take most of the girls out shopping and waves as she leaves, “Have fun pickle forking.” It sounds much more fun than it is.

But it worked, and I only bashed my finger once and with hardly any blood loss. I smacked the pickle fork in between the tie rod and the control arm (I think) and they separated with a clang (I’m pretty sure this is a good thing). I held my pickle fork aloft in triumph and sang a silent aria to the good people at the green store. Now I’m on a roll, and my wife is gone. This calls for Rush.

The b-side of 2112 playing on repeat in the background, as well as two of my sons, were the only witnesses to the next three hours of impact wrenching, stud post pounding, and caliper replacing fun. I managed to get one rotor replaced, the caliper switched, and the brake pads inserted…wait a minute. The brake pads were too big. My wife returns and asks, “Think you’re getting close?”

Nope. Not even close to close. Also, the brake line is leaking. CAN WE FIX IT?! Crickets.

Back at the orange store to replace the brake pads that their computer swore would fit on the Stagecoach, we discover a mystery. It involves pad sizes and caliper parts that three orange-cloaked auto parts employees are befuddled by. In the end, they settle on a new pad that looks mostly like my old pad, and we’re off.

The guy with the YouTube video dedicated to fixing leaking brake lines ensures me I need to get some more brass washers. This time the boy and I go to Carquest, the red, white, and blue auto parts store because we’re driving by it. The boy gets a slushie, I get my washers, and we’re set for Saturday repairs, Part Trois.

ACT III

The third Saturday, I tackle the other wheel. Lugs off, pickle fork in, big socket whirrr whirrr, kill the other four bolts…I’m getting good at this. I get the wheels changed, new bolts in, etc… All that’s left is to put in the new pads.

Ah, the pads. These are decidedly too small. Forget you, orange store, we’re going green.

I never thought I’d hear myself say that.

At the green store we get a new set of pads that look different from both sets that preceded them. The new pads slide into the new calipers with ease and perfection, and I pat myself on the back with black sooty fingers. Now for the endgame, the brake lines, which the red, white, and blue store washers pinch into submission. Swallow your fluids, you pesky brake caliper, I need to see about a girl.

I test the lines, I test the brakes, I hear no grinding. Victory! We have victory!

I walk into the house, calming my giddiness along the way so that when I finally pass my wife I can give her a calm thumbs up and a nonchalant assurance. “Done. Fixed it.”

She cheers, my pride surges, we’re back in business, and I can get back to performing the functions God more readily designed me for, with a keyboard and a mug of coffee.

A few days later, a friend texts me about helping him format a Kindle version of his book. This I answer with confidence and no preparatory YouTube research required.

Yes, I can definitely fix that.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Love it. Great and manly adventure. Go Vince!

    • #1
    • September 21, 2020, at 12:40 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. KentForrester Moderator

    That’s a hell of an accomplishment right there, Vince. I’m not kidding. Hell of an accomplishment!

    I know it will be a serious diminishment of your manhood, but can’t put just find a pro to do these kinds of things? You could brag to your wife (who seems to put pressure on you without really putting pressure on you) about other things, like the ease in which you find things on YouTube.

    Or you could tell her that you don’t need to fix things to shore up your manhood. 

    • #2
    • September 21, 2020, at 1:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I know it will be a serious diminishment of your manhood, but can’t put just find a pro to do these kinds of things? You could brag to your wife (who seems to put pressure on you without really putting pressure on you) about other things, like the ease in which you find things on YouTube.

    Or you could tell her that you don’t need to fix things to shore up your manhood.

    This devil’s voice on your shoulder is attempting to lead you astray, Vince.

    • #3
    • September 21, 2020, at 2:00 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Nohaaj Coolidge

    I have never encountered a vehicle that used different brake pads, respectively for the left and right sides. Every thing else seemed pretty standard when I perform self repairs, including multiple trips to multiple stores. 

    • #4
    • September 21, 2020, at 3:28 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama ToadJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Go Green Team! Woot woot! Way to go, Vince. Lucky wife…

    • #5
    • September 21, 2020, at 3:45 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    Now you have a pickle fork! (The best part of doing your own repairs is buying new and obsure tools.) I drive a 1998 Lexus, so as you might imagine, I spend a fair amount of time searching for parts and getting my hands dirty. I now pretty much start on eBay. Used parts are so much cheaper; I’ve yet to replace anything twice. My wife says I should buy a new car, but I relent. Old Florence (the name I gave my car years ago) just made the trip from AZ to FL, 2300 miles in two days, without effort. Losing her is something like abandonment. 

    If my wife wants a new car, she should replace hers

    • #6
    • September 21, 2020, at 4:43 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Doctor Robert Member

    Money is a wonderful thing. You give it to other people, and they fix your cars in a day or two. I will go straight to Hades before I do another car repair, and I have no fear for my masculinity.

    • #7
    • September 21, 2020, at 5:15 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. JoelB Member

    I just spent a lot on getting my car’s heater/AC fan working again. I watched the videos and am pretty sure I could have done it myself if I ordered the parts (available only through a dealer). I just wasn’t feeling it, though. I let a pro work on it – a guy I trust and have done business with for years. I only had to take it back to the shop once, but it seems to be working fine now. It’s just in time for defroster season. I tell myself I saved the mental and physical energy for the next project.

    • #8
    • September 21, 2020, at 5:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Seawriter Contributor

    And this is why I now take the car to a mechanic for these kinds of repair. I am willing to trade price convenience for product convenience, place convenience and most especially time.

    • #9
    • September 21, 2020, at 5:43 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is why I take my car to a mechanic. I can screw around for days, buy lots of tools that I’ll use once (and never again ), or I can take it to someone who knows what they’re doing and get the job done in a few hours.

    Headlights and stuff like that, I’ll take care of myself (although I’ve got a story about my wife’s old Santa Fe and a hidden bolt holding the assembly in place). Anything more complicated? It goes to a garage.

    • #10
    • September 21, 2020, at 5:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  11. EODmom Coolidge

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    Now you have a pickle fork! (The best part of doing your own repairs is buying new and obsure tools.) I drive a 1998 Lexus, so as you might imagine, I spend a fair amount of time searching for parts and getting my hands dirty. I now pretty much start on eBay. Used parts are so much cheaper; I’ve yet to replace anything twice. My wife says I should buy a new car, but I relent. Old Florence (the name I gave my car years ago) just made the trip from AZ to FL, 2300 miles in two days, without effort. Losing her is something like abandonment.

    If my wife wants a new car, she should replace hers

    That’s so funny and I’m with you: it seems people either keep their cars forever ( me ) or are fickle and start looking for one they’d like better 3 weeks after they get the new one, regardless of what it is (EODDad.) I love the SUV I’m driving (150,000 miles and 10 years and I don’t do the maintenance myself ) and can’t see anything I would like better but Dad and Son are circling. 

    • #11
    • September 21, 2020, at 5:45 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Tex929rr Coolidge

    When I am about to tackle a motorcycle or car repair I tell my wife “this will be a 3 mofo job”, meaning I expect to say mofo three times (or 4 or 5, whatever seems appropriate). If I exceed the prediction I fail, if I come in under I have shined. I once predicted a ten mofo job but frankly I lost count in there someplace so I don’t know how I did. The dogs will come out and lay down near me while I work until the first mofo and then they go looking for Mrs Tex.

    Your job sounds like about a 15 mofo job but spread over several days. I’ve never had to do a daily average before.

    • #12
    • September 21, 2020, at 5:57 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily EssentialJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You only changed one side’s rotor?

    Well at least you know what you are in for shortly with the other side…..

    • #13
    • September 21, 2020, at 8:09 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Vance Richards Member
    Vance RichardsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Vince Guerra: YouTube is the poser handyman’s best friend; I don’t know how men faked technical proficiency prior to it.

    YouTube has allowed me to do a whole lot of repairs around the house. It has also stopped me from starting some more complex projects that I never would have been able to finish (better to hire a guy in the beginning than to get midway through and have to admit you failed).

    • #14
    • September 21, 2020, at 8:22 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    You only changed one side’s rotor?

    Well at least you know what you are in for shortly with the other side…..

    No, I changed everything in pairs, which is why I had to go to Autozone in the first place. The green store only had one rotor that fit my vehicle. 

    • #15
    • September 21, 2020, at 9:33 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    And this is why I now take the car to a mechanic for these kinds of repair. I am willing to trade price convenience for product convenience, place convenience and most especially time.

    I might have except for the fact that about three months ago I’d just got it back from the shop for a $3000 repair. They had to replace the intake manifold and head gasket. After watching the 45 step process and seeing that I’d need to detach almost everything attached to the engine (and then have a machine shop re-something the head) I said, “Nope. Pay the man,” and had perfect peace.

    • #16
    • September 21, 2020, at 9:43 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor

    That was hysterical–oops–maybe I shouldn’t say that. Well, I don’t do anything where my hands would need to get that dirty! 

    • #17
    • September 21, 2020, at 9:48 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. KentForrester Moderator

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    That was hysterical–oops–maybe I shouldn’t say that. Well, I don’t do anything where my hands would need to get that dirty!

    Girly girl!

    • #18
    • September 21, 2020, at 9:57 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama ToadJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):
    Now you have a pickle fork!

    I’m guessing you guys are not talking about one of these:

    • #19
    • September 21, 2020, at 10:07 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. Tex929rr Coolidge

    I don’t know how much harder this might be in Alaska (due to shipping), but I find that if I search for auto parts using the VIN I can find the right parts on line much more quickly. Ford does mid-year truck changes all the time and it makes it tough to find the right part otherwise. I don’t know about GM but I suspect it’s much the same.

    • #20
    • September 21, 2020, at 10:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The bad thing about working on cars, especially older cars (which are the ones that need the work) is that fasteners corrode and become a real…[let’s say “bear”] to unfasten. I can’t even get the rear license plate off my car without having to drill out the screws – I tried a few weeks ago.

    When I was poor college student I used to change my own oil. Then I figured out that I was getting really dirty, had a problem disposing of the old oil (this was before most municipalities had recycling available), and was saving about $2.

    • #21
    • September 21, 2020, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  22. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I don’t know how much harder this might be in Alaska (due to shipping), but I find that if I search for auto parts using the VIN I can find the right parts on line much more quickly. Ford does mid-year truck changes all the time and it makes it tough to find the right part otherwise. I don’t know about GM but I suspect it’s much the same.

    That’s how the brake pad fiasco started. I bought all the parts at the same time online via the VIN and picked them up at the orange store. They all said “will fit your vehicle” but for some reason the pads didn’t. Even the guys there were confused by it so maybe it was a glitch or something. The second issue I suspect is that the pads they settled on, the ones that came off and they matched (also, the ones that destroyed the rotor) were for the 1/2 ton instead of the 3/4 ton, so I was probably driving on the wrong pads for about five years.

    • #22
    • September 21, 2020, at 11:51 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    I, too, have a ’99 Suburban. It is grounded right now, also due to needed brake work. ): I actually like this stuff, and have all the tools (yes, some really big sockets). But other diy projects are ahead of it in the queue, and we don’t actually need its services right now. I am not permitted to displace billable consulting work for diy stuff. (Yay? Sigh.)

    • #23
    • September 21, 2020, at 3:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mr. Charlotte is wonderfully handy, and YouTube has impressively expanded his repertoire. But above a certain level of complexity I have to remind him that his time is not worthless. He’s slowly coming to terms with that.

    Good story, Vince!

    • #24
    • September 21, 2020, at 3:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I, too, have a ’99 Suburban. It is grounded right now, also due to needed brake work. ): I actually like this stuff, and have all the tools (yes, some really big sockets). But other diy projects are ahead of it in the queue, and we don’t actually need its services right now. I am not permitted to displace billable consulting work for diy stuff. (Yay? Sigh.)

    I often hear it’s one of the better models of Suburban and it has such low miles we’ll probably stick with it for years to come since we still have seven kids in the house. I would probably enjoy it if I had the time and a warm shop to work on it, but with no garage it gets kinda lame dealing with long ternm stuff and hoping for good weather.

    • #25
    • September 21, 2020, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  26. Full Size Tabby Member

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I, too, have a ’99 Suburban. It is grounded right now, also due to needed brake work. ): I actually like this stuff, and have all the tools (yes, some really big sockets). But other diy projects are ahead of it in the queue, and we don’t actually need its services right now. I am not permitted to displace billable consulting work for diy stuff. (Yay? Sigh.)

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Mr. Charlotte is wonderfully handy, and YouTube has impressively expanded his repertoire. But above a certain level of complexity I have to remind him that his time is not worthless. He’s slowly coming to terms with that.

    Good story, Vince!

    God did not gift me with skills in home improvement or in auto repair, and my father never did either, so I am useless in the event of the zombie apocalypse. Fortunately God did gift me with professional skills for which companies were willing to pay quite handsomely. So it made financial sense for me to focus on my high-paying job while contractors and auto repair shops fixed things at home and on the car. Unfortunately, now that I am retired and spending my days not earning money, I don’t have even the basics, and so today my car is at the auto repair shop, and I am trying to find someone to cut a gate into a fence at my house.

    • #26
    • September 22, 2020, at 1:05 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I, too, have a ’99 Suburban. It is grounded right now, also due to needed brake work. ): I actually like this stuff, and have all the tools (yes, some really big sockets). But other diy projects are ahead of it in the queue, and we don’t actually need its services right now. I am not permitted to displace billable consulting work for diy stuff. (Yay? Sigh.)

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Mr. Charlotte is wonderfully handy, and YouTube has impressively expanded his repertoire. But above a certain level of complexity I have to remind him that his time is not worthless. He’s slowly coming to terms with that.

    Good story, Vince!

    God did not gift me with skills in home improvement or in auto repair, and my father never did either, so I am useless in the event of the zombie apocalypse. Fortunately God did gift me with professional skills for which companies were willing to pay quite handsomely. So it made financial sense for me to focus on my high-paying job while contractors and auto repair shops fixed things at home and on the car. Unfortunately, now that I am retired and spending my days not earning money, I don’t have even the basics, and so today my car is at the auto repair shop, and I am trying to find someone to cut a gate into a fence at my house.

    Sounds like a good excuse to go out and buy a Sawzall.

    • #27
    • September 22, 2020, at 1:10 PM PDT
    • 2 likes