Last time, I detailed the expenses involved in Grey getting his 2009 Mazda 3 on the road. He was excited to have cleared all the regulatory hurdles, but there were storm clouds on the horizon: the paper-thin clutch we had identified during the test drive.
To his credit, Grey was being proactive about it, and asking all the right questions:
He decided he couldn’t sleep with the uncertainty hanging over him, so he started to research clutch kit vendors. He checked out a couple local retailers – AutoZone and Standard Auto Parts – but settled on mail ordering from RockAuto due to their superior pricing. For $211, he received a new clutch set and flywheel.
Did I mention I was nervous about this project? I was nervous about this project. Grey is a fairly handy person – he helps out around the house – but he had zilch-o automotive repair experience. I’ve been taking our cars to Jiffy Lube for oil changes, so he hadn’t even done that basic job.
With previous household projects, I felt confident in my own experience and my ability to guide him, but I was totally out of my depth on this. I’d done some major repair work on my 1972 VW Beetle when I was a teenager, but that was eons ago. And not very applicable here, as I never had to completely pull an engine.
However, Grey did have a few advantages that I never had:
- Indoor space with overhead crane. My father and brother had graciously agreed to let Grey use their shop workspace in East Baltimore.
- Car-knowledgeable people nearby. Their company has a number of engineers and techs who are car enthusiasts.
- Tools. The shop is filled with most every tool he would need.
- Youtube. Grey would watch and re-watch a Mazda 3 clutch replacement video for step-by-step instructions on how to proceed.
On Saturday, December 28, 2019, I went into the shop with Grey to help him get started. I would be back to work on Monday, so I wouldn’t be able to serve as a mechanic’s assistant for long.
With the front wheels up on ramps, and with Youtube as our guide, we slowly removed and stored things: battery, starter, cables, etc.
On His Own
On Monday, Grey was on his own. Sort of. He would work independently until he encountered a problem – then he would consult with my brother Grant or one of the other guys there. One day, Grey texted me this photo with Grant and two other guys under his car:
Other days, when he needed extra muscle, he’d recruit his sister, Pippa, who was home on Christmas break from college:
The work was slow but steady. He had a heck of a time removing one of the wheel hubs. He had to purchase a replacement clutch slave cylinder ($120). He had to rent a bearing puller from Pep Boys ($27). During left front axle reassembly, he wrestled and cajoled it, only to learn (yay internet!) that he needed to blast it with heat to encourage it to comply:
He was learning like crazy, but it wasn’t all mechanical insights. A week into the project, Grant CCed me on this text to Grey:
A week after that, he called Grey back to the shop in the evening to clean up a sink he’d left a mess:
Two days shy of four weeks after he started, Grey had the Mazda fully assembled again, sans a couple small mystery parts. He started it up, slipped it into gear, and tentatively let out the clutch. It grabbed, the engine sputtered, Grey punched the gas, and it lurched out of the shop.
Success! I couldn’t have been prouder.
In the ensuing months, there would be other issues, most notably a door latch electrical issue that had been sloppily repaired by a shop previously, as discussed here.
But again, the learning opportunity was equal to the problem. We went together to the LKQ Pick Your Part (formerly Crazy Ray’s) junk yard in East Baltimore, which just happened to have the same year, make, and model as Grey’s.
We pulled the driver’s door panel and stripped out the latch electrical connector. While we were there, we also nabbed a right tail light cover and owner’s manual. Total cost for all 3 items: $41
For those keeping score at home, here is the grand total expense of Grey’s car investment so far:
$246 Inspection & Inspection Repairs
$489 Tax, Tags & Title
$399 Repairs detailed in this post
Grand Total: $2,844
Plus lots of sweat equity.
Plus $3,236 in annual insurance cost (discounted 15% starting in September due to COVID).
Benefit of experience gained and lessons learned? Priceless.