You can learn a lot by crawling under your car. Sure, you can learn a lot about the car and its condition, but you can learn a lot about yourself too.
Upon arriving under the car, you can see all sorts of things and come up with all kinds of questions. Here’s a couple I came up with this afternoon while lying under my ’76 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon: If the dipstick is showing full, where is all this oil coming from? If you put grease into the suspension fittings, why is there grease all over the suspension parts? And why is it I have never seen this mythical creature called a cob and yet they have built webs all over the undersides of my car?
Oh, and I have other questions too. Like how does a fitting that has oil coursing through it for 36 years rust solid to what it is screwed into? I guess these and a host of other things that are happening under my car are just mysteries for the ages. Speaking of ages, my age no longer suits lying on a cold concrete floor rolling around in the various fluids and solids that my car tends to issue forth these days. My darling wife bought me a Craftsman mechanics creeper for Hanukkah one year and I finally used it today. You see, I am an old school (my darling wife calls it hard headed) wrench and never bothered to use one of these wheeled wonder carts. Actually, being hard headed wasn’t my only reason for not using a creeper. First, most of the time I was working on my car in a gravel driveway, so the creeper would not have been much use. Second, if you can’t raise your car up very high because you don’t have a big jack and good jack stands, a creeper takes up too much room under the car to get any work done.
So there I am lying on my comfy creeper, tools and supplies at the ready and commence to work. As I survey the undersides of this 5100-pound leviathan, I reach for a wrench and go after the first bolt that holds the torque converter cover onto the bottom of the transmission. The bolts have a 3/8-inch head on them and somehow I forgot to grab that socket when I hit the toolbox. I reach across for the front bumper and pull myself out from underneath…rolling easy on six ball-bearing wheels. Maybe this will go alright for a change. Re-tooled, I collapse myself back onto the creeper and head in.
Soon enough, work is proceeding pretty well. My bad wheel, that is my left leg which pains me for a multitude of reasons, starts to act up. Out from under again to straighten up and take a little break. When the leg looses interest in annoying me, I head under the car again. Time to remove the transmission cooler lines. These aforementioned lines have oil flowing through them any time the car is running. When it is not running, oil just sits in the lines waiting for the high sign to get going again. Well, the fittings are in a tight spot and require a flare wrench (usually) to remove properly. Flare wrench in hand, I find the cooler line fittings frozen solid to the threads they screw into on the transmission. Despite this car being very, very original, and my desire to preserve that originality whenever I can, I reluctantly use a tubing cutter and cut the 36-year old steel lines that except for their frozen fittings were otherwise in perfect condition. Harrrumph!!
Now, the front of the car is safely supported on heavy-duty ramps while the rear tires, properly chocked to prevent rolling, rest on the floor. What this means is that as I roll towards the back of the car to continue working, there is less and less room for things like my nose to clear the bottom of the car. Reaching for the crossmember bolts, I realize that I will have to bail out of the creeper in order to slide far enough back under the car to reach them. Once I am on the ground, I decide that I am now a creeper man through and through. The concrete floor is cold, covered with little bits of this and that which are now poking me in the head and back. My hair picks up every single bit of dust and dirt from the same floor that would take six passes with a broom to get as clean as me just resting my head on it, or so it would seem. Crossmember bolts feel my pain as I wrench them from the spot they have been sitting in since Jimmy Carter was president.
One last nut under the car (no, not me) and my work for the day is over. This nut attaches the transmission mount to the crossmember and is dead center under the car. I can’t get to it from the front so a side assault is in order. I grab the creeper and head around to the starboard side. I begin to remove the nut, which is an 11/16-inch job with a heavy 1/2-inch socket wrench and socket. This tool combo weighs about two pounds and after a few brief pulls on it with my arm stretched halfway under the car, I realize that I could be here all day on this nut. That’s when my old boss Bob’s voice drifted thought my head. Bob owned the repair shop I worked at and when things got quiet out in the service bays he would yell, “I don’t hear any money being made out there!” What he meant was he didn’t hear any of our air-powered tools speeding up the process of knocking out the work. Today, neither did I. So, I hoisted myself up, went over to the tool box, picked up my air ratchet and snapped a socket onto it. I plugged in the air line, climbed back onto the creeper, reached under the car and with the push of a button, the last nut zinged off in less than three seconds.
So now you are probably asking the question, why the heck weren’t you using the air ratchet the entire time? I’d like to blame it on the creeper, but it was probably the creep on the creeper that only used his head to sweep the floor today. Like I said, you can learn a lot by crawling under your car.