This weekend I decided to do some work on my car, and thought I would pass on some tips that, in retrospect, I might have liked to know when I started. Why was I working on my car? Because I bought a 2002 Corvette a while back and I am cheap, too cheap to pay the Corvette tax to get someone else to do the work.
1. Half of the effort of working on a Corvette is getting it up on jack-stands so that you can get underneath it. I use the method of rolling the front wheels up on two 2x12's, then up on another pair of 2x12's, in order to get a low-profile jack under the front. Just remember, if it's up in the air, it's half way to being stripped and sold for parts.
2. The 'Vette has about 110,000 miles and was getting a little sketchy, suspension-wise, so I replaced the shock absorbers. This isn't a technically challenging process, especially since the Corvette uses a magic transverse composite leaf spring. (Yeah, it's sitting on two fiberglass bars.) I've done it before on the F-150, which requires spring compressors. Spring compressors are evil. But I've noticed something about the scheduling: doing one side of one axle requires about two hours of wrestling, profanity, and pain. Doing the second side takes about thirty minutes. The next time I have to do this, I'm going to do both corners on one side first in an effort to balance out the time---I figure that should work out to two hours each for all four.
3. Replacing the shocks, while not terribly complex in itself, requires removing or at least loosening a few other components. The Car Talk guys divide things that can go wrong with a car into three classes:
- Things that will annoy you. Things like those funny rattles in the door or broken air conditioning. The general advice is to turn the radio up.
- Things that will leave you stranded. The engine, transmission, that kind of thing. Expensive and necessary stuff.
- Things that will kill you. This category is pretty much limited to the steering, brakes, and suspension.
Shock absorbers themselves are not going to explode and maim you, normally, although they are part of the suspension. But to get them off or on requires getting other parts out of the way. For me, for the Corvette front-end, these other steps included loosening the tie-rod ends to get the steering linkage out of the way and loosening the lower ball joints to move the lower control arm in order to make room to move the shock. The tie-rod ends attach the steer-y bits to the wheel-y bits; the lower ball joints connect the wheel-y bits to the car. I need to get an alignment first thing, but I need to drive it over to do that. If I stop posting, you'll probably know why.
4. Step one of working on a car: get all the tools you own and dump them on the floor. Trust me, it'll save time over doing it piecemeal. Yes, all of the tools. A hammer? You'll need it. Needle-nose pliers? Yup. A dental pick? Sure, why not. Don't have a heap that you could not physically lift? Best go buy more. Make sure one is a crescent wrench; although everyone everywhere hates them because they round-off and destroy bolt heads and nuts, you will find yourself with something that does not fit any socket or open-ended wrench you have.
5. In addition to the shocks, I changed the oil in the engine and transmission. The engine oil is easy and I didn't hardly make a giant, toxic waste spill this time at all. The Corvette uses automatic transmission fluid in its manual transmission; I don't know why and probably wouldn't understand it if someone explained it to me. Tip o' the day: use a transfer pump, like the thing on a soap dispenser; see the picture off to the right. Otherwise, it is fairly difficult to get oil to flow up into the transmission fill hole on the side of the transmission while you are lying on your back underneath a car. Using a teaspoon is not much of an option.
6. Is it just me, or does the Corvette's rear suspension use American units while the rest of the car uses metric?
7. After futzing with the car, you will look like a Welsh coal miner from 1850. It's a bonus: instant costume.
Now, does anyone have any painkillers?