Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Friday, May 12, 2006

Shade Tree Mechanics

The Holy Trinity: Baling Wire, Duct Tape & JB Weld

The car mechanic I'm using these days is a firefighter by trade. For those not familiar with firefighter scheduling, they're usually on duty for 24 hours straight, then off for 2-3 days, then back on for another 24 hours straight.

Seems like a cush gig, except for the bit about burning houses falling on you. Oh, and the paramedic duties. Scooping up brains has got to suck major ass.

Forget what you saw on 'Emergency!' back in the day. No longer are there separate paramedics and firefighters, at least not in Hizzoner's realm. Every one of our local firefighters is trained as a paramedic, and gets rotated through the meatwagon duties. Oh, and the falling burning houses part is becoming less of a problem. The new policy is 'containment', which means if the fire has a pretty good headstart by the time they get there, they'll spend most of their effort keeping it from spreading to neighboring structures, instead of risking lives trying to extinguish your burning meth lab. Moral of the story? Buy sufficient fire insurance coverage!

Anyway, the schedule the firefighters run allows them to run a side business, if they so choose. In my case, I have to call and leave a message to see if he's in that day. Usually he can deal with the car problem right away. Since this is a sideline for him, there's usually no backlog of cars ahead of you in line.

He's got a really nice shop tucked away in a hidden corner of the Spring Branch area. He shares the property with a paint & body shop, also run by another firefighter. He's not Mr. Goodwrench, more of a auto-repair generalist, but he's good at coming up with innovative fixes.

In this latest case, instead of hitting me up for an entire new A/C compressor, he was able to replace just the main bearing. Unfortunately, the spindle had worn down where the lock-ring attached, the result of my driving with a damaged compressor for however long it's been wonky. This meant the pulley holding the unibelt on could spin free at any time, leaving me up shit creek 50 miles from a paddle. As I said, he's good at coming up with innovative fixes. I suspect he's a graduate of the Congolese School of Engineering.

He took most of a tube of JB Weld, and managed to re-create the original contours of the spindle, then did some more fiddling around with the unibelt pulley, making a JB Weld flange to keep the belt from hopping off. Yeah, it's an ugly-looking kludge, but it does the job, my Caddy runs almost silently again, instead of sounding like a Joad-mobile dragging a muffler.

Total fee? $360, of which $250 was spent on parts. Only 2 hours charged for labor, where a dealership would have socked me for 5-6 hours @ $60/hr. (which is what I suspect it really took to do all that JB Weld sculpting).

I've got my eye on a replacement compressor on eBay. Only $250. It'll have to wait until the next paycheck, though...