OKAY, confession time. It’s a well-known fact that a mechanic’s car is like a decorator’s house or a gardener’s garden.
The last thing we feel like doing after a hard day at the office is what we do for a living, and, as a result, things that need doing tend to get put off.
I found this out the hard way the other day. Like all good mechanics, my own daily driver is a heap of rubbish.
I have a few nice cars in my private collection, including an off-road Land Rover and a couple of very shiny classics, but the daily clunker is, at present, a shabby old Ford Focus estate that I took on when a customer left it with us to scrap after the cambelt snapped, and I trained one of our apprentices by rebuilding the engine with him – a mutually beneficial experience that also paid for him to have a couple of nights out.
The Focus is, by no means, a well maintained car. I check the oil, coolant and tyre pressures fairly frequently and
I keep intending to give it a service, but apart from that, I tend to ignore it. And therein lies the problem…
On a rare night out with my good lady wife just a few days back, we were making our way back through the country lanes to our rural retreat when, all of a sudden, we hit a pothole and the car started to vibrate, eventually shuddering to a halt at the side of a deserted road, at least three miles from anywhere.
And, despite advising all of my colleagues and customers to carry a basic toolkit with them at all times, the best
I could muster was an adjustable spanner and a pair of pliers, both of which – randomly – were in the pocket of
a pair of overalls I’d left in the boot, where I should really have kept some more useful bits instead. Other than that, I had the torch on my iPhone, with about 12 per cent battery left. Needless to say, herself was not impressed.
But car mechanics are nothing if not resourceful, and after a cursory inspection with the torch I discovered that the main battery to earth bolt had worked itself free, and looking at the remaining (slightly sheared) thread, it was a 16mm diameter. Which, of course, was terrific, as every other bolt on the car had a 6mm thread.
If I’d had my toolbox, there would have been two ways around the problem. The first would have been to find an appropriate bolt, the second to get out my 12v soldering iron and solder the earth strap to the mounting point. Alas, I didn’t even have gaffer tape, just an ailing torch and an extremely grumpy good lady.
Cue my most resourceful moment yet. Looking around, the only thing anywhere near us was a road sign, advising anyone looking for our village to turn right in 150 yards.
The sign was held to its pole with jubilee-style clamps, which in turn were held in place by chubby 16mm threaded bolts. All of a sudden, our situation was no longer ‘Game Over’.
By now, my phone had died so not only did I no longer have a torch, but also no means of calling the breakdown service. Please don’t share this information with my wife, even now… I was, however, back in business.
Using superhuman reserves of strength, my cheap and nasty adjustable spanner held out just enough for me to worry one of the bolts free from the back of the road sign, and using my pliers to bridge various connections, I was able to locate the correct earth point in the pitch black by getting the car to generate its own little sparks of light.
Not something I’d recommend, but as someone who once changed a gearbox in a motorway service station car park with nothing but a cheap, promotional socket set I’d bought from the petrol counter, there was no way I was being defeated by something so trivial.
The pliers were handy, too, for scraping the surface rust off a bolt that had spent many a year hanging in the great outdoors. I don’t think anyone was more astonished than I was, to be honest, when I got the bolt to take to the remainder of the leftover thread and the car fired instantly into life.
At this point, I felt heroic, despite the grumblings of my long-suffering better half, who was already struggling with the after-effects of an entire bottle of Pinot. If I’d assisted another motorist with such a creative bodge, I’d have been quite proud of myself.
But I’m a mechanic, and I should have known better. What I really should have done is travelled with a basic selection of tools in my car. Then we’d never have been stranded in the first place, and I wouldn’t live in a village with a lopsided road sign.
On SuperUnleaded.com: Do you know how old these collectable cars are?