(The Classics Perspective is a column exclusive to AutoTrader Classics and written by our own Online Editor Brian Medford. We hope you enjoy it.)
I can't stand being unable to fix a car. It drives me nuts. It makes me seethe with fury. When I tweak, replace, and rebuild every part that I think is bad, and STILL don't fix the problem; I am not a happy person. I take it much better now than I did as a younger man. It has been years since I pitched a tool across the garage. I still get upset, but now I channel that energy into looking for a solution rather than trying for a new ratchet throwing distance record.
I came to a calming realization years ago: I can't make it any worse. Sure, there are flaws in my logic. I could probably cause catastrophic damage. But honestly, most of the time, whatever is broken on a car won't get much worse by trying to fix it. That thought has driven me through the "mechanic's block" of many repairs and continues to give me inspiration.
Fear used to stop me from working on certain projects. Fear of not knowing how a system works, or how something goes together kept several cars stranded in the driveway. But, fear can be overcome with a little thought and research. The internet is a wonderful thing for a car guy. Resources that would have been nigh impossible to find are now just a click away. Last night the windshield wipers on my Duster stopped working. My repair manuals were useless in this case and, since I am new to the car, I had no idea how the mechanism ever (even?) worked. Once I got home, I simply typed my problem into Google and found several pages not only describing my exact problem, but step-by-step instruction on how to fix the problem. Within minutes I went from dreading the repair to looking forward to it. The windshield wipers don't work so I can't really make that problem any worse. All I can do is fix it. Get the idea now?
Let's go back to the Duster. You might remember from my previous editorial that I have had problems getting it running. After 6 months of tweaking, replacing, tinkering, and rebuilding I finally got the car running one Sunday night. I was so excited I took the family out to dinner to celebrate. Everything was set for me to drive the car to work the next day; its maiden voyage, my victory drive. The next morning I walked confidently out to the car, waved goodbye to my family and jumped in the driver seat. The Duster didn’t start. Thirty minutes later I gave up trying to get the car started and slid behind the wheel of my trusty old daily driver. I was crushed. What had gone wrong? How on earth could the car break just sitting in the driveway?
That night I diagnosed the problem as a no-spark condition. I had installed a brand-new ignition system, and yet it was dead. Frustrated, I bought a whole new system- again (luckily the parts are cheap). For some reason, I have always been afraid of distributors. I hate removing one because I am always afraid that I will never get it back in correctly. With a new distributor sitting in a box beside me, I looked down at the old one in the car. It had to come out, and I had to get the new one back in. I mumbled to myself "well I can't make it any worse," grabbed my ratchet and dove in. Old part out, new part in. That wasn't bad at all; it only took two tries. Even better, the car fired up and purred like a kitten.
Years ago when I started working on cars, I would have never thought myself capable of the things I have done. But back then, I didn't have that many little "wins" to carry me forward. To me, working on cars is about momentum. My past successes carry me forward. Don't be afraid to dive into a project. Be persistent. You will eventually notice that things that once seemed impossible to you are now routine. Just say to yourself "I can't make it any worse."
(Brian is an avid automotive enthusiast who grew up in his father's shop and has had grease under his fingernails from an early age. He has been involved in the classic automotive industry for well over a decade. He has owned several classic cars and is currently focused on the Plymouth brand.)
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