Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


Saving Money the Old Fashioned Way

The water pump on my truck began leaking last week, so today, I replaced it with a new one. I figured I'd save money by doing it myself with parts I acquired from the parts store.

Yeah, that went well.

First of all, I drive a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. It's got 186,000 miles and this is the first repair other than brakes that I've had to make on it, so I really like this truck. Or I did until this afternoon.

After taking Luke to school, I stopped by the parts store, and got a new pump, belt, gasket, and sealant ($148.00) and headed for the house. Having learned on an earlier adventure that allowing the car to cool down before playing with the engine isn't just a good idea, it's mandatory, I went into the house to work for a couple of hours.

I woke up bright and early at around noon thirty and got to work.

I pulled out my trusty Haynes guide and started the rpocess of pulling the water pump. It seemed so easy when I read over the instructions the night before. Pull the belt. Pull the fan shroud. Pull the fan. Disconnect the hoses. Remove old pump. Clean the seating surface. Apply new gasket. Install new pump. Put the car back together.

Ok, cool.

My truck has what's called a serpentine belt. It's called that because if you don't watch it carefully, it will reach out and bite you. It twists and turns through multiple gears and pulleys like spaghetti on steroids, and all of it runs right next to a fan blade made of surgical steel finely honed to a razor's edge. I'm not sure why the fan needs to be that sharp, but if I'm ever trapped in a Mad Max movie, I've got my weapon of choice ready.

The way you remove a serpentine belt is simple. You hook up a ratchet to a nut on the tensioning pulley, and you pull the ratchet towards the engine. In theory, this will pull the tension pulley towards the engine, releasing the tension on the belt, allowing you to slip the belt off of the pulley and begin to remove it. In practice, this will slam your hands into the razor sharp fan blades because you forgot to check which direction your ratchet was set.

Upon setting the ratchet correctly and again pulling towards the engine, I successfully disengaged the belt from the pulley, and began the long process of threading it around the fan blade so I could remove it entirely. After 15 minutes and 2 stitches, I went for plan B and I cut the silly thing off.

The next step in the Haynes manual is to remove the fan shroud. But before you remove the fan shroud, you have to remove the radiator surge tank (See section 4.) Turning to section 4, I find out that removing the surge tank is simply a matter of pulling it up and disconnecting the surge hose.

I mention this process only so I can document the only thing that went right throughout my entire afternoon. So if you need a radiator surge tank pulled, I'm your man.

So I went to remove the shroud, only to find that I also had to remove the windshield washer fluid tank. According to the manual, this was so simple, it didn't even need its own section, just a picture. Just unplug two wires on the bottom, disconnect a hose, and lift the tank clear.

Yeah, right.

The two wires on the bottom are about two and a half feet below the hood area, which means I have to stand up on a stool to get high enough to get low enough. Yeah, you read that right. Then there's the little matter of plugging a rigid plastic nipple with out damaging it, or allowing windshield washer fluid to spray out all over the engine compartment. By the way, windshield washer fluid is very slippery. When you put your hand on a brace to support yourself, and that brace is covered in windshield washer fluid, things do not end well.

I finally got everything disconnected, and lifted the tank per the manual, and ran into a snag. There was a great big hose leading from the engine to the radiator that ran over the fluid tank. The manual said nothing about that hose, and when I looked at the pictures, it wasn't there, so I removed it.

I hope it wasn't important.

I lifted up the tank, now that the last obstruction was de-obstructed, and nothing happened. It would not move. I put all the force I felt comfortable using without breaking anything, and it wouldn't budge. Fine, I'll skip that step.

Now it's time to remove the shroud, so I quickly release 3 of the 4 screws holding it in place. I say three because the fourth screw is located, you guessed it, behind the windshield washer fluid tank.

At this point, I inadvertently enlarged my grandson's vocabulary a bit more than his mother would like.

I managed to work a box wrench in to loosen the last screw holding the shroud in place, and the assembly was free. This is when I found the two plastic tabs holding the tank in place. I popped those bad boys right off and the tank was free. Well, except for the third wire the Haynes manual didn't tell me about.

I don't think it was important, but I'll let you know in a few days.

Now it was time to play with the fan. Remember the fan? With razor sharp blades and an appetite for my blood? The manual sad that I should use a large screwdriver and a special wrench to remove the fan, since the fan nut was attached to a clutch that went both ways. Now I don't have the special wrench, but I do have a lathe that has a large spindle nut on it, and it seems to be they are roughly the same size, so I get my spindle nut wrench and surprise surprise, it was a perfect fit. Not that it did me much good. Have you ever tried to use a screw driver to brace a free spinning pulley by trying to catch it between two bolt heads, all while
leaning over an engine with the hood latch wedged firmly in the perfect position to either castrate or disembowel you depending on which way you slipped?

I haven't been in a position that awkward since junior high when my dad walked in on me furthering my relationship with Col Wilma Deering from Buck Rodgers. (I'm sharing too much again, aren't I?)

Anyway, the screwdriver wouldn't hold, and I couldn't get enough leverage to back the fan nut off and any time I tried to apply a burst of force, the screwdriver would slip and I'd find a new and interesting place to bleed. Not to mention the silly fan shroud kept falling in front of me, interfering with my line of sight and access to the nut. Eventually, I got tired of it flopping around and bolted it back in place temporarily while I figured out what to do with this nut. I decided to get creative, and got a pair of slip jaw pliers and used them to hold the pulley steady. I was finally able to apply some good torque, but 10 years and 180,000 miles had pretty much welded the nut to the fan clutch. It was time for my secret weapon, 3 in1 oil. A few pops of the can, and 10 minutes later, I gave it another try. A used the pliers to hold the pulley, put my wrench on the nut, and thrust down with all 300 pounds of my weight on both tools. Of course, the 3 in 1 oil had worked and the nut spun freely and I rammed my head into the air filter housing.

Doc says the double vision will clear up in a day or so.

With the fan loose, I unbolted the shroud again and pulled both pieces out of the truck. After 2 hours, I was finally ready to start working on the water pump.

The pump is held in place by 3 hoses, 7 bolts, and a mysterious gasket-like substance with a bonding strength greater than super glue, but more about that later. The first thing I had to do was drain the radiator and engine of coolant. According the Haynes manual, there was a little knob on the left side of the radiator that opened a drain, and two drain plugs on the engine block. I looked all over the left side of the radiator and didn't see any sign of a knob or drain valve. For grins, I looked on the other side, that would be the right side, for those of you playing at home, and loo and behold, there was the drain plug. Apparently, when the folks at Haynes say "left," they mean "on the left if you were physically superimposed over the engine, and were looking out from the engine compartment," not "on the left as you stand outside looking at the radiator."

Silly me.

I opened the little valve and nothing happened. Consulting the Haynes manual, it said that sometimes the drain would get plugged by rust, and I should insert a screwdriver into the drain hole to remove the rust. The drain was about as wide as a drinking straw, and I don't have any screwdrivers that small, so I said forget it, and started pulling hoses from the radiator.

I caught most of the fluid in a bucket, which is good, because I have dogs and I want to continue having dogs.

After the flood ended, I was ready to start pulling hoses from the water pump. Two hoses were very easy, sticking out on either side but there was a third hose coming from the top of the pump, ducking immediately under something that looked very important and highly technical, and leading back into the dark recesses of the engine compartment. There was almost no room to get a hold of the hose clamp, and even less room to move the hose clamp back off of the nipple, and to make matters even more fun, the hose was acting like it had been welded to the nipple.

About this time, my son got home from school, which worked out nicely because he could help. It was even nicer because now I had somebody to blame when things didn't go well.

Working together, the two of us finally managed to remove that last hose, and after removing the bolts, the water pump wouldn't budge. I consulted the magic book, which was rapidly becoming dark, smudged, and much harder to read. It recommended hitting the pump with a soft faced hammer, so I immediately got my 5 pound sledge, and that water pump sailed out of the engine compartment. Then I found out that I needed an inlet tube from the old pump, so I climbed the tree where the pump landed and brought it into the garage to remove the tube.

I think I avoided all the poison ivy.

While I removed the tube from the old pump, Luke prepared the surface for the new pump by scraping off the old gasket material. If you've ever changed a newborn baby's diaper, you'll understand the task that Luke faced, and also why I let him do that part.

The tube was held in place by a simple o-ring. Well, a simple o-ring and 10 years of road dirt, mud, tar, and other assorted nastiness. It was supposed to pull free, but of course, it didn't, and I resorted to brute force, grabbing some slip joint pliers and trying to twist it free. Then I jumped in Lissa's car and drove to the parts store for a new intake tube. They don't twist really well, but they crush flat in a heart beat.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Luke finished scraping the seating surface, and we were ready to start putting things together, which was good because we were running out of daylight. Assembly was in reverse order of disassembly, and everything went together just as well as it came apart, which was no big surprise. I dropped a bolt from the new water pump and it fell between the radiator and the the thing in front of the radiator that looks like a radiator and isn't really. or maybe the truck has dual radiators; I don't know. But where the bolt fell, there was no way to reach it. We wound up picking up a random piece of rebar and using it to probe the small gap and managed to knock the bolt free without doing too much damage to the radiator.

Slowly but surely, piece by piece, we reassembled the truck into something similar to the way it was before I started. The last step was to install the new serpentine belt, which again involved the no longer razor sharp fan blades, and the labyrinth of pulleys and tensioners. At last the job was done, and it was time to refill the cooling system with fresh antifreeze and water.

When I bought my supplies, I paid a couple of extra dollars for the low toxicity anitfreeze. It's propylene glycol, instead of ethylene, and it has a bitter agent that is supposed to keep dogs from drinking it. I tasted it myself, and it is pretty nasty. If it keeps my dogs healthy, it's worth the extra couple of bucks.

Luke filled up the radiator and I started the truck and we waited for it to heat up. As far as I could tell, there were no leaks, and the truck ran as well as before, and seemingly a bit quieter as well. I'll know more in a couple of days, but for right now, I think I've got a good truck again.

So in the end, I spent 5 hours doing a job a mechanic could have done in 2 hours tops, collected several new and interesting scars, and saved about $150. On the other hand, if I had worked at a paying job for 5 hours I would have made $150, and had no scars, and no grease and oil under my fingernails. (If my mom saw my fingernails right now, she wouldn't let me eat at the table for a week.) I also have a sore back, cramps in my hamstrings, a mild concussion, and my fiance says I'm too smelly to kiss.

But I also have the deep soul satisfying satisfaction of doing the job myself, and that's worth, well, that's worth something. Not a lot, but something anyway.
Posted by Rich
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I'd forgotten how much fun watching my late husband do this stuff was! No joke, three alternators in the space of a month in our old Mustang long ago. Then he remembered that he needed to charge the battery before he installed the new alt. So, thanks for the memories, I'm still giggling.

Oh, and I'm really glad, after all that, that your truck still runs. Congrats on a job well-done.
Posted by Missybw  on  09/30  at  11:40 AM

Well Mr. H. (i put your last name here, but thought...being a blogger who speaks his mind...maybe that wasn't such a great idea) just learned a valuable life lesson. Only thing I took from the "Rich Dad Poor Dad" book was one statement. It was were the author figured out that if you take your hourly rate and figure out how long the job will can determine if you will make $$ or loose $$$ on the work. That is why I went from restoring cars to not working on cars, quit COMPLETELY. Don't even change my own oil anymore...just isn't worth it.
Posted by Jerger  on  09/30  at  12:54 PM

I about fell out of my chair at this post! You need to write the New and Improved Haynes Manual, my friend! You remind me of the time I decided to do some of my own auto repair, which introduced me to an altogether new level of filth and pain.

Glad to know you got it fixed and running again, hopefully with no strange new rattling sounds.
Posted by Leia (TennZen)  on  10/01  at  12:05 PM

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