The Nuts and Bolts of Car Repair

WHEN my husband changed the air filter on our K Car for the first time, he found that it was full of acorns. We purchased the car used after our youngest child ``totaled'' the Tempo, which had just been back in use after our oldest had a go around with a cement wall. Such is the challenge of driving in Boston when a broken water pipe creates unexpected ice. Such is the challenge of parenting young adults. While we were extremely grateful that no one was injured during these difficulties, we were in need of a replacement for this hapless vehicle. We began the search with one criteria in mind: air-conditioned dollar value. This was the winter after the summer when it stayed above 90 degrees here in Boston for most of July and August. The K Car was advertised at a price of $1,300. After we negotiated a necessary brake job, it cost us $1,100.

The car was in the yard of a house in the New England countryside. It apparently wasn't being driven, and now we knew, about 10 months later, what it had been used for as it awaited our ownership. It had been an animal sanctuary.

In addition to the squirrels that had taken the air filter as their room in the inn, the dog fur on the upholstery and the scratches on the windshield indicated that the canines preferred the soft seats of the interior of the passenger area to the enclosure of the engine. Even after the extensive overall application of pine-scented cleaner to the nonfabric surfaces, vacuuming the fabric, and opening the windows, the scent of dog fur lingered. Finally after some months it faded into a mild dog-scent cologne rather than perfume.

Was the K Car equal to its new-found mission: transporting people from one destination to the next? Our children didn't think so because it wasn't red and entitled to an Italian or Japanese appellation. It was brown, boxy, and only entitled to one letter of the American alphabet - definitely serious functional handicaps.

Once it had new tires, and front and rear brakes, it was ready for the onslaught of summer's ravages. It did have working air-conditioning! Part of the cooling effect came from the liquid it splashed all over the front passenger's legs every time it rounded a curve - and otherwise intermittently. We were told this was condensation after a radiator man and a mechanic examined its summer symptoms. Once a hose was unplugged, all was well for about a week when it clogged up again.

Our car fared better in the fall because its main race drivers were away at college. It rarely got beyond the limits of the town in which it resided. New Year's Eve brought need of a new front spring, struts, and a new front tire when the right spring broke 50 yards beyond a large pothole. (No connection, we're told.)

This car had a thing about fluids. The radiator began a winter version of the summer liquid emission, only this came from under the hood instead of under the dash. If you got close enough to the steam you didn't have to turn on the heater to warm your hands.

Maybe the Environmental Protection Agency should consider having all auto manufacturers install old radiators so that we could conserve the energy used to heat our cars, or overheat as the case may be. While they're at it, why not install plugged condensation hoses so that we could save on the use of our car air-conditioners? All that is necessary are several hose extensions to the rear passenger area so that everyone could be saturated evenly.

To get back to the acorns. The car ran much better without them, and we were so inspired that we decided to install new plugs. We enlisted the help of our son, during winter break. The whole thing went well except for one broken plug wire. My son had been trained as a mechanic on a Pacer with a distributor cap that had been installed backwards, making it impossible to get the correct firing order from the manual. Having mastered this first initiation into do-it-yourself tuneups, our son found this was a piece of cake. Things were looking up.

All cylinders operating, acorn-free air flowing, springs and struts absorbing shocks of all kinds, the only remaining impediment was the steaming radiator. I still think the heat conservation idea has merit!

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