Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Junker Driver Part 2

                        A JT (Junker Turismo) hits you in the face. It's the car that is parked under the tree with bird shit sprinkled all over it. It is easily more than ten years old; the mileage on the speedo says 150 thousand, but the mileage gauge got broke a long time ago. The compression has dropped by 25% or so and it might be using a quart of oil every thousand miles. Maybe it belongs to you, you old junker driver! It handles kind of rough. The power steering squeals, and your lonely bed will sputter anxiously climbing a steep hill. The work is harder as the years go by, but it still starts in the morning. It still takes you out shopping day after day. Do you hear any thumping in the bottom end? No! That last unhappy condition is what will put you in the junkyard. A tight, beefy bottom end gone to hell will hopefully not be the reason your junker ends up crushed on the boat to China.
  Now in '85 good times miraculously beset me. In amazement I stared at big paychecks. After awhile they made a consumer out of me. Old Shel, who had tweaked the Dodge Horizon GLH (Goes Like Hell), —did it ever!— had already worked up a formula for the Ford Mustang. So in '85 I bought one. It looked almost exactly like THIS. (The video is very cool.) I used to amuse myself and my fellow workers very often with wild burn outs. Everybody loved that car! The 305 would rev all day. The only problem I had was the retention of passable rubber—you know how that is. Almost nothing else happened; while it was a GT it also was a JT. At well over 100,000 miles, nothing wrong, I had to sell it. After the Mustang—it so happened I got laid off and was broke and never saw those fancy paychecks again, ta-ta—I searched high and low for another JT.
  At that time the Japs glutted the market. They were cute little devils. Up in Maine Subaru was popular and still is. Datsun, now Nissan, exported a strong four cylinder. But none of these were true JT's. It was the rust! Jap cars to this day are still nagged by rust.
  In the 80's the auto makers finally got the knack of dipping the chassis in rust inhibitor. But they made them a lot lighter, too—less metal to rust a hole through. A junker driver might keep the family JT out of the junkyard a few years past a dog's lifetime if he garaged it. I had a shade tree, but no garage. A shade tree will protect your Junker from prolonged UV's, cracked windshields due to summer overheating, etc., but the tree will shed and the birds that settle in the tree will shed and most of it will land on your Junker. An occasional hit with a thick coating of Simonize is worth it. When I was with the Mustang, I got a habit of a monthly Simonize, which made a big difference.
  That was in early '90. I needed a small car to fit under the shade tree, and the juice was then taking another big hit, heading for well over two dollars a gallon. Even after the Beetle and the Civic the idea that a four-cylinder engine could power a JT was novel. I searched high and low. I wanted a car that was a real family car, and hopefully not a death trap as the Beetle had been. I turned again to Volkswagen. At one point I had almost bought a Rabbit, the model that followed the Beetle. They were building a snappy and attractive four-door sedan, the Jetta. VW still adhered to the idealistic notion that the purchase of a car should be a once or at most a twice in a lifetime event. The rustproofing was exceptionally thorough and their drivetrains didn't tend to goof up in major ways, although minor peccadilloes did tend to surface from time to time. 
  At that time VW was not enjoying a happy run. Companies fall into bad runs. It is usually the details that suffer; but then the devil is in the details. But bad run or no, this little Jetta, in which a four-cylinder diesel engine labored excitedly, was a JT. I knew while I was still a mile away.
  It turned out as I expected. The only big failure happened when the alternator brushes fell apart. I soldered them back together, but that didn't work and I had to buy a new set. All the rest could be fixed by the backyard mechanic at very little cost, or ignored. Soon my wife learned the clutch and stick shift, and the car was hardly ever in the driveway; it was off on some whirl wind tour. It was hardly ever home even long enough to do an oil change. I could write a book about this car and all the things that eventually never did go wrong with it.
  But, as far as I can discover, that was the last of the true JT sedans. By '95 computers were entrenched. The carburetor was evolved out of existence and the injector and throttle body—with numerous electronic sensors—had taken over. Amazingly, the promised advances in fuel economy never developed, until recently, finally. The vehicles became very similar in design—front wheel drive hatchbacks. The problem now for the Junker Driver was the purchase of special tools and a scanning computer. These tools were so grossly overpriced that anybody would vomit to purchase them. Those mechanics who did eventually purchase these tools, in order to avoid a decline and backwards sliding to pick and shovel work, were now stuck with a technology of which they knew less than nothing. The error code hid in a mysterious smoke screen. Hardly anybody knew how to interpret beyond the error code and proceed to particulars. Diagnostic skills got lost in a purple haze. Even the "factory trained" technicians in dealerships became worse than useless. The manufacturers loaded the cars with electronics which DID NOT MAKE THEM BETTER. At a certain point the vehicles broke down. The reign of chance succeeded to power. Nobody knew what to make of it. The shotgun approached was employed. The mechanics were unable to diagnose exactly what had gone wrong, so they tried this then they tried that. The bottom line, once the owner got the repair bill, was terrifying. (This may not be exactly true any longer. Certain mechanics CAN pinpoint a problem and fix it. But it ain't cheap.) 
  Junker Driver to the rescue! These are the rules I worked out.
  1. Never take your car or truck to a dealer for anything, ever. They know less about your car than you do. Unless, rather than fix it, you have decided to buy new.
  2. Ignore what ever is wrong until it breaks resolutely and finally, then the mechanics MAY be able to find the source of your problem and fix it without utilizing the shotgun approach, in which they replace everything that might conceivably be related to your problem. This does not mean that it will be any less expensive when you do decide to get the repair. Be prepared for a shock.
  3. When you run into a serious malfunction, especially electrical, which you cannot ignore, if the car will start, then drive or, if the car won't start, push it to the end of the driveway and wait for a Junker Driver to stop and purchase it for a song.
  4. Become a Junker Driver yourself!
  Although I had a personal experience in my youth in which I saw spirit in the machine, for my father had owned a Studebaker, that is not necessary to become a Junker Driver. A lack of money is one motivator; a lack of intelligence, which goes with the lack of money, is another. Also a few tools collected over a life time will get you going, and a flat spot in the driveway, preferably out of the direct sunlight. You may suddenly find yourself cussing more than usual, but that thing is just a dumb machine. And you are a man, a Junker Driver, prone to swagger. And be careful because when the wheels are off and the car is on the jack stands and you are under it hacking and pounding, if something happens so that it decides to fall on you, that is not fun.
  If you have not collected any mechanics' tools, then get some, and start accumulating a vocabulary. You may surprise yourself by finding the work amusing. It comes with nicked fingers, at times considerable physical exertion, frustrations, broken bolts. One job may lead to another, often accompanied by mystery. But when the job is done, and the thing works, there is a general happy satisfaction.
  Some people go out shopping, find an old Super Bee, the car they used to drool over in high school, and they get to tinkering with it, frequenting junkyards, and they join an auto club, learn welding and whatever other necessary skills and this amuses them till old age and senility. Their clothes get dirty and they carry about them the odor of old motor oil; and thus they meet the challenges of the second childhood without having to hustle a new young wife and follow her to Florida.
   But they are not Junker Drivers when they don't use these cars to go to Walmart every other day. No! You are a Junker Driver when the wife says, fix that thing now, or it's over. I'm leaving. When it comes to that point, the only friend you have who loves you is the half-inch drive ratchet you continually mistreat with the encouragement of a three foot length of iron pipe.
  For these reasons Junker Drivers form a communal underground. They share tools, acetylene torches, air compressors, impact wrenches, welders as if nobody owned anything. (It is a communist society right here and now in America! Don't tell the CIA! Or that woman who nailed Bin Laden. Oh no!) They donate their time to each other. Strange, ruggedly independent hard heads get all goopy and compassionate when a fellow Junker Driver is broke down beside the road. Off they go to the rescue!
  A major overhaul may evolve into a joint venture between the Junker Driver and his friendly neighborhood one man repair shop, payments to be decided later.
  Soon you'll learn who will remember you when he happens upon a set of almost new tires. Or who will put a nice spin on an inspection sticker. Or who has the skill, the handy test light and the ohm meter to find an electrical malfunction when nobody else could.
  You'll need a box of wrenches and ratchets. Compressed air is a wonder, for it drives the proverbial impact wrench, although sweat and elbow grease is still king. A work bench with a vise and a drill press is a big help. It may even be that the only person who can fix your car and keep it fixed is you. 
  Maybe your marriage is founded on that Junker out under the shade tree. 'Ja ever think of that?
  Go to, Man! The future is now!

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